Mineralocorticoids are a type of steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal cortex. In this lesson, you will learn about the main mineralocorticoid, aldosterone, and how it regulates your body’s salt and water balance.
On top of your kidneys sit endocrine glands called the adrenal glands. Each gland contains an outer cortex that is referred to as the adrenal cortex. From this cortex, we see the secretion of three different types of steroid hormones: mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids and sex hormones.
In this lesson, we will learn about the main mineralocorticoid called aldosterone and the important role it plays in balancing salt and fluid levels within your body.
Mineralocorticoids are hormones that help regulate the salt and water balance in the body. The two important salt ions that are involved in this regulation are sodium and potassium. As we often see in biochemistry, where sodium goes, water follows.When we look at the body, we see that mineralocorticoids target the kidneys and tell them to reabsorb, or hold onto, sodium so it does not leave the body in urine. Because water follows sodium, the body effortlessly reabsorbs water along with the sodium.Water balance is closely regulated by your body, and it’s important that your body keeps a close eye on the amount of fluid it carries around.
One reason is because this influences your blood volume and your blood pressure.We know that the cardiovascular system is a closed system. Therefore, if you have more fluid in your blood, you essentially have more blood in your cardiovascular system. This added volume increases the pressure within your blood vessels, which is measured as your blood pressure.
Aldosterone is the main mineralocorticoid secreted by the adrenal cortex. Your adrenal cortex will release aldosterone when your blood pressure gets too low.Why does this happen? Well, as we just learned, mineralocorticoids such as aldosterone make your kidneys reabsorb sodium, which causes water to follow. This in turn increases blood volume and blood pressure back to normal. This is yet another example of how your body takes care of you without your conscious awareness. Even when you’re tucked away sound asleep in bed at night, this process and many others are at work.
It really makes you think about how amazing and smart your body is.
For example, if we take a closer look at the regulation of your blood pressure, we see that your kidneys are able to detect when your blood pressure is low. This triggers the release of a substance that we previously learned about called renin and the start of the renin-angiotensin system. Renin is produced by specialized cells within the kidneys in response to a drop in blood pressure. This initiates the hormonal cascade that leads to the production of angiotensin II.
Angiotensin II is a powerful stimulator of aldosterone release. Once the aldosterone is released, blood volume and blood pressure rise.One additional thing that you may have taken notice to is that your blood normally holds on to a fair amount of sodium. Sodium is used by your body not only in blood pressure regulation but in other functions, such as muscular contractions.If your blood sodium level drops, this triggers aldosterone release from the adrenal cortex, which causes sodium to be reabsorbed, bringing the level back up to normal. Of course, as we see with many things in health, you can have too much of a good thing. If your body retains too much sodium and water, this can lead to unhealthy conditions, like high blood pressure.
We mentioned aldosterone’s effect on sodium balance, but we don’t want to dismiss the fact that potassium levels are also regulated by aldosterone. Therefore, it would be more complete to say that aldosterone acts on the kidneys to reabsorb sodium and increase the excretion of potassium. Potassium, like sodium, needs to be regulated by your body. High levels of potassium in your body can adversely affect the heart and lead to dangerous changes in heart rhythm.
Let’s review.Mineralocorticoids are hormones secreted by the adrenal cortex that help regulate the salt and water balance in the body. Mineralocorticoids are able to regulate sodium by telling the kidneys to reabsorb it, so it does not leave the body in urine. Because sodium stays in the body, and because sodium attracts water, water also stays in the body. This can boost blood volume and blood pressure.Aldosterone is the main mineralocorticoid secreted by the adrenal cortex.
When low blood pressure is detected by the kidneys, we see the start of the renin-angiotensin system, which is a hormonal cascade that leads to the production of angiotensin II. Angiotensin II is a powerful stimulator of aldosterone release.Because aldosterone increases sodium blood levels and increases blood pressure, we see that the secretion of aldosterone is triggered by decreased blood sodium levels or low blood pressure. Aldosterone also acts on the kidneys to increase the excretion of potassium. Potassium, like sodium, needs to be regulated by the body to maintain homeostasis.
After watching this lesson, you will be able to:
- List the primary example of mineralocorticoids
- Describe how aldosterone functions in regards to the renin-angiotensin system
- Explain aldosterone’s effect on the body’s sodium and potassium levels
- Summarize how aldosterone functions to regulate blood pressure