Hormone 101: Adrenaline your survival response

Hormone: Adrenaline

Where it is released from?

Adrenalin is a hormone made in the adrenal glands and is a creation of the sympathetic nervous system. It is released by the adrenal glands into the body and its release is triggered by strong emotions such as fear or anger. It can also be released whilst exercising (or even just thinking about exercising can simulate its release), as the hormone helps to prepare the body for the necessary demands to maintain endurance.


What is its main function?

Adrenaline’s release into the bloodstream is typically triggered by a stressful event, at which point the body needs the hormone to prepare it for fight or flight. The fight response is an expression of the energy that’s built up from the adrenalin, by fighting or dealing with the stress head on. The flight response is also an expression of the energy, but instead is expressed by running away from the event or source of danger.  Often referred to as the survival hormone, this powerful messenger’s response is immediate in order to enable us to respond quickly in times of acute stress or danger. The body reads the situation and prepares us by increasing our heart rate and blood pressure to pump oxygen to our brain and muscles - making us stronger and faster in our ability to respond. Before we even react or decide our response, our heart is already rushing oxygenated blood to our muscles so we will be ready. With extra oxygen going to the brain, we are more alert. Sight, hearing and other senses become sharper.

This usually all happens so quickly we’ve barely had a chance to notice - whether it’s a car accident, receiving tragic news, falling off a bicycle or a life-changing email, many of us can possibly relate to these kinds of moments passing by in nothing short of a flash. A good example of this at work is our reflexes when in danger, like pulling someone away from an oncoming car or protecting our face with our arms when we fall. The body responds before we’ve even realized what’s happening.


What are the effects of imbalances in this hormone?

Too much adrenaline in the body can damage blood vessels and arteries and increase our blood pressure. This can lead to insomnia, anxiety and a compromised immune system which doesn’t leave us in a good place when we need to fight off any infections. It’s common to fall ill after experiencing extreme stress or shock, such as after a death in the family or a serious accident.

Along with cortisol, adrenaline is produced in the adrenals. Cortisol is involved in a range of vital functions, from regulating our circadian rhythm, to the breaking down of carbohydrates in our foods, Along with adrenaline, cortisol also has a role in the stress response. Therefore broader issues with overproduction of cortisol due to prolonged periods of stress, are more common and this is what typically leads to burnout or adrenal fatigue - cortisol levels drop considerably after being overproduced for too long.

Adrenal fatigue is a result of overactive adrenals, and although it’s not directly linked to an overproduction of adrenaline, but rather cortisol, the two are both produced in the adrenals and the health of the adrenals is imperative in maintaining overall health and wellbeing. Some symptoms of adrenal fatigue include an extreme lack of energy, depression, decreased ability to handle stress, food allergies, food cravings, weight loss and dry skin.


What is its relationship to lifestyle: diet and stress?

The body typically only releases adrenaline when it needs it but despite adrenaline’s life-saving role in stress management, it’s not only possible to be overloaded with it, but also unaware if you are. People who suffer with obesity or sleep apnea could feel the effects of adrenaline when going to sleep if they struggle to breathe, so understandably the body could go into survival mode.

Adrenalin itself is a rush and some people go out of their way to feel its effects; skydiving and bungee jumping are common adrenaline pumping activities but even drinking coffee gets our adrenals going as the caffeine intake is being read by the body, as a stress. That in itself gets us thinking, how much do we really know about what impact stimulants are having on our bodies, on our hormone health, and what can we do to maintain our health balance? Stick with us to find out.  


Words by Amy Mabin


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