Adrenal Glands and Diabetes

The adrenal glands are endocrine, or hormone releasing, and are located on top of the kidneys. They release hormones that are essential to life such as the stress hormone cortisol, which is a corticosteroid, and catecholamines such as adrenaline. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body respond to stressful situations such as surgery or infection. It also increases blood sugar by stimulating the liver to make glucose and by preventing movement of glucose into the cells.


Diabetes is a condition in which a patient has high amounts of blood sugar. This occurs either because the body cannot produce sufficient amounts of insulin, a hormone that transfers glucose from the bloodstream to the cells, or as a result of ineffective usage of insulin by the body, also called insulin resistance. Some common symptoms of diabetes are polyuria, or the need to urinate frequently; polydipsia, or increased thirst; and polyphagia which refers to excessive hunger. Diabetes can occur as a result of various conditions.

Causes of Diabetes

Diabetes is classified as type 1 or type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the cells that produce insulin are destroyed. This can happen when the antibodies in the body attack and destroy these cells. Development of type 2 diabetes is linked to inactivity, obesity and a family history of the disease. Diabetes can also be caused by pregnancy, diseases such as hemochromatosis and by certain medications. Hormonal imbalance in the adrenal glands can also lead to high blood sugar levels and diabetes.

Significance of Cortisol

Cushing syndrome is a hormonal disorder of the adrenal glands 1. It happens when the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Under normal circumstances, cortisol stimulates the body to produce sugar. When the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol, as is the case in Cushing syndrome, blood sugar levels can get high, and this could lead to diabetes 1.

Adrenal Tumors

The adrenal gland is divided into two sections--the adrenal cortex and medulla. The adrenal cortex secretes cortisol and other hormones. Tumors in the adrenal cortex can cause the adrenal gland to produce high amounts of cortisol, and this leads to Cushing syndrome 1.


MedlinePlus says diabetes may occur if Cushing syndrome goes untreated 1. Treatment of this condition focuses on reducing the mount of cortisol in the body, which is possible through surgical removal of the adrenal tumors or complete removal of the affected adrenal gland. Drugs such as ketoconazole and metyrapone can also be used to inhibit cortisol production.