The adrenal cortex is the outer layer of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys. They have several functions.
The adrenal cortex stimulates three steroid hormones, glucocorticoids (like cortisol), mineralocorticoids and androgens (like testosterone). All of these hormones have important functions within the body.
Glucocorticoids help to regulate the level of sugar in your blood (hence their name from the word "glucose"). The most abundant glucocorticoid is cortisol (also called "hydrocortisone"). They also form part of your immune system and help to reduce or stop chronic inflammation.
Inflammation is a normal function of the immune system, caused by increased blood supply with immune cells that target the injured area in order to heal it or ward it off from the rest of the body. Short-term, acute inflammation is actually good for you and is one of your defences.
Immune cells sent to the affected area include mast cells, macrophages, eosinophils and neutrophils. This is called cell-mediated immunity. Any sustained immunological action of these cells results in inflammation.
However, long-term or chronic inflammation is caused either by a condition of poor health that the body cannot repair on its own (such as osteoarthritis) or by an oversensitivity of the immune system (in conditions such as asthma, allergies and auto-immune diseases).
In recent years chronic inflammation has been linked with conditions such as depression and cancer. Chronic inflammation is possibly implicated in the development of heart disease, so glucocorticoids have a vital job in helping to reduce the inflammation.
Due to their immune suppressive action, glucocorticoids have been manufactured artificially to treat arthritis, control asthma and even as anti-rejection drugs to stop transplant patients rejecting their new organs.
Mineralocorticoids help your body balance mineral absorption. They produce a steroid called aldosterone which helps promote normal blood pressure, they reduce the amount of salt you lose when you sweat, and they help improve the function of your taste buds so you can enjoy your meals more!