By Katherine Brind’Amour, PhD
Everyone has felt it. That sudden pounding heartbeat. Sweaty palms. A surge of energy as you scan for exits. That’s epinephrine.
Epinephrine is a hormone released by the adrenal glands. The hormone is also called adrenaline. Epinephrine is released during periods of sudden or severe stress and is the energy rush behind our “fight or flight” mode.
While it’s crucial to have enough epinephrine in the body at the right times, there are many ways its overproduction can cause health problems. Persistent high levels can raise your risk of anxiety, depression, weight gain and heart disease. Thankfully, there are ways you can naturally reduce adrenaline production.
Are Adrenaline and Epinephrine the Same Thing?
Adrenaline and epinephrine are the same thing. The words are used interchangeably to describe the “fight-or-flight” hormone made mainly by the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys.
How Adrenaline/Epinephrine Works
The adrenal glands have a portion called the medulla, which makes the hormone epinephrine, also called adrenaline. When we are under stress, our hypothalamus (a tiny region in the brain) raises the alarm. Our nervous system activates the adrenal glands to release adrenaline into the blood. The hormone then latches onto receptors by certain organs, such as the heart and lungs. Epinephrine helps our bodies in a number of ways when facing stress: (1, 2)
- It causes our heart to pump faster and helps our airways dilate so we can get more oxygen to our muscles.
- Epinephrine also helps our blood vessels to contract to direct more blood toward our heart, lungs and other key muscles.
- The hormone helps the pupil of the eye enlarge, improving vision and perception.
- It boosts our awareness, strength and performance and decreases our ability to feel pain.
- The hormone helps break down glucose to turn it into sugar for the body and brain to use for energy.
You may also notice increased sweat production, palpitations or sensation of a racing heartbeat (tachycardia), anxiety and high blood pressure. The body continues to feel the effects of its energy boost for up to an hour after the stress has subsided. In times of real stress, these changes can dramatically improve our ability to function. But when we feel acute stress without the physical need to escape or move suddenly, our bodies may still produce adrenaline. In these cases, it can cause dizziness, light-headedness or changes in vision. Alternatively, it can make you feel irritable or restless. High levels of the hormone when there is no real danger can lead to the jitters, nervousness or excitability, trouble sleeping and even heart damage.
High vs. Low Levels of Epinephrine
In times of severe stress, epinephrine is released at high levels. The sudden increase is normal and subsides after the stress has faded. In most cases, adrenaline is only needed for those periods of stress.
However, some people have high levels of adrenaline even when there is no danger present. Producing adrenaline during stressful events that don’t require sudden activity is fairly common, but true, constant overproduction is rare.
High levels of epinephrine can be caused by: (2, 3)
- Stress in daily life. Even when we don’t need to flee or fight, our body experiences stress from things such as sudden noises, work events, the pressure of managing a hectic schedule and more. The chronic stress caused by daily demands can lead to continually raised levels of stress hormones. This includes adrenaline as well as cortisol, which boosts sugar levels in the blood and curbs our immune, digestive, reproductive and growth processes. Together, consistent high levels of these stress hormones can cause major problems for our wellbeing.
- Obesity and untreated obstructive sleep apnea. When the body struggles to breathe at night, adrenaline kicks in to give the heart and lungs a burst of energy and a temporary increase in wakefulness to the brain. Over time this may lead to high blood pressure.
- Adrenal tumors or adrenal cancer. Tumors called pheochromocytoma grow on the adrenal glands, or paraganglioma grows along the nerves in the chest and abdomen. These tumors can run in families and cause periodic symptoms of an adrenaline rush. However, sometimes symptoms are very mild and people may not even notice the excess adrenaline.
Low levels of adrenaline are very rare, even if you have lost your adrenal glands due to disease or surgery. This is because your nervous system can make noradrenaline or norepinephrine, which functions very similarly to epinephrine. However, it is possible to have adrenaline deficiency caused by rare genetic enzyme deficiencies. There are also some cases of adrenal insufficiency that result in low levels of hormones produced by the adrenal glands. Some people also believe in adrenal fatigue, or mild and undetectable (via current blood tests) decreased production of these critical hormones that results in a variety of symptoms.
- Life-threatening allergic reactions, called anaphylaxis. These can be due to allergies to food, insect bites or stings, latex, medications and other things. Epinephrine is injected into the outer thigh muscle. It works by narrowing the blood vessels to decrease swelling and increase blood pressure. Epinephrine then helps the heart continue pumping to avoid a heart attack, and relaxes the airways to make it easier to breathe. It also suppresses the body’s reaction to the allergen.
- Asthma attacks. Because epinephrine can dilate the airway, inhaled epinephrine can be given to help calm or prevent serious breathing difficulties.
- Heart attacks. If your heart has stopped beating, an epinephrine injection may help it restart.
- Serious infections. When the body is in septic shock, delivering epinephrine directly into the vein (through an IV) may help the body regulate itself again. Alternatively, inhaled epinephrine may help during severe respiratory infections.
- Anesthesia. Using small doses of epinephrine in addition to anesthesia can slow the body’s absorption of the anesthesia medication and make the pain relief last longer.
How to Reduce Adrenaline Production Naturally: 9 Tips
According to the Mayo Clinic, the key to naturally limiting the body’s adrenaline levels is to learn to react to stress in a healthy way. Conveniently, tips for reducing adrenaline production overlap with tips to reduce cortisol and other stress-related hormones also made by the adrenal glands, since controlling stress and anxiety is the key action. Consider these tips for stress relief and epinephrine control: (3, 7)
- Learn effective relaxation techniques
- Get a relaxing hobby
- Make friends — and spend time with them
- Take care of your body
- Make lifestyle adjustments as needed
- Try aromatherapy
- Consider herbal remedies
Learn effective relaxation techniques
Coping with stress effectively can help your body regulate the production of stress hormones. Over time, you may be able to reduce the stress response you feel when faced with common stressors. Although most research studies the impact of these techniques on cortisol, it is probable they have a similar impact on epinephrine and norepinephrine levels, especially when practiced after acute stress. Some effective ways to relax and reduce your response to stress include: (3)
- Try integrative body-mind training (IBMT). Daily practice of this relaxation training for at least two weeks can decrease your overall levels of stress hormones. It can also be done in 20-minute sessions after you experience an acute stressor to significantly reduce your circulating stress hormones such as cortisol. (8) IBMT is a form of meditation that emphasizes avoiding efforts to control your thoughts, instead focusing on becoming restful but alert. You aim for body-mind awareness and may then be given guidance from a coach on breathing, mental imagery and other techniques, with soft music in the background.
- Visualize. In this technique, you focus on mental images to transport yourself to a place you find calming and peaceful. For example, you can sit quietly and close your eyes, loosen tight clothing, and choose an image to focus on, such as a beach or retreat. Think about how it looks, what it would smell like, the things you would hear and what you could touch or how you would feel.
- Try autogenic relaxation. By paying attention to how you feel versus how you want to feel, you can effectively relax yourself. For example, start by thinking about something that is peaceful. Then start paying attention to your body. Focus on controlling your breathing, slowing your heartbeat, relaxing each limb one by one, and so on. You may wish to say words or phrases to yourself to help keep your focus on relieving muscle tension.
- Learn progressive muscle relaxation. Even shortened forms of this technique were found to significantly lower stress hormone levels in university students. (9) The technique involves deep breathing while tensing each muscle group tightly for up to 10 seconds. Then release the muscles and rest for up to 20 seconds before moving to the next group of muscles.
- Listen to music specifically to relax. Research in university students found that listening to calming music with the intention to relax was effective at relieving stress and even at reducing subsequent levels of stress hormones. (10)
Get a (relaxing) hobby
Enjoying a hobby on a regular basis can help reduce your risk of major adverse cardiovascular events. (11) People without hobbies are more likely to suffer from depression. Hobbies may allow you to better process life events and bring a sense of productivity and satisfaction. Consider a wide range of hobbies that may improve your mood, release feel-good endorphins and reduce stress:
- Drawing or painting
- Journaling or writing a story
- Writing handwritten letters to friends or loved ones
- Creating cards, scrapbooks or mementos
- Woodcarving or large crafting
- Outdoor hobbies, such as walking, birdwatching, canoeing, cycling or gardening
- Learning a new skill or taking a class just for fun
- Cooking or baking
- Yoga, meditation or mindfulness
Volunteering has obvious benefits for whatever charity or organization you’re helping, but it can also help you relieve stress. As a bonus, it can help lower blood pressure, strengthen your social involvement and get you to be more physically active. The connection between volunteering and these health factors is strongest for older adults. (12) The trick? Aim to do it at least 200 hours per year, and for the good of others — not just for you.
Make friends — and spend time with them
Social support is a well-known protector. Having friends or strong support from family members can help you cope with stressful events and provide you with practical support when times are tough. The American Psychological Association recommends these tips for growing your support network and using your supporters to relieve stress: (13)
- Be open to a broad circle or friends. You will probably need more than one person to best deal with the many stressors in life. For example, a work colleague to talk about stress at work or a neighbor to chat with about the difficulties of parenting. Seek out people who are reliable and trustworthy as well as encouraging.
- Reach out when you’re stressed out. Research in healthy men given a stress test showed that those who had their best friend present had lower levels of stress hormones, a greater sense of calmness and less anxiety than men who had no social supporter with them. (14) Other research has shown that verbal support from a friend during a stressful situation can reduce blood pressure, calm your heart rate, reduce the amount of stress hormones released, relieve pain, and reduce how difficult, tense or trying we perceive a stressful task to be. (15)
- Make an effort to be a friend to others. Reach out before you need help. Be involved and active to grow your relationships. Get in touch just to say “hi” or set up time to catch up with each other. Providing others with support when they need it also sets the tone for a lasting relationship.
- Seek out people who know what you’re coping with. If you don’t have someone who is good to confide in or if there is a specific stressor you’re dealing with, consider a focused group of supporters. Groups that meet to offer support to others coping with divorce, grief and other life stressors can offer new friendships and a wide circle of social supporters.
You may have heard that “laughter is the best medicine” and in some ways it’s true. Laughter offers a free and fairly direct way to boost mood and lower our levels of stress hormones. It may also improve your oxygen intake, relax your muscles, relieve pain, balance your blood pressure and improve your mental functioning. It is being increasingly added to therapy programs for people with everything from stress to cancer. (16)
- Try laughing Qigong. Regular laughing Qigong sessions effectively reduced stress and cortisol levels among young people completing an eight-week program. (17)
- Do some laughter therapy. Laughing decreases epinephrine and other stress hormones in the blood, which can work to reverse your body’s stress response. Research suggests laughter therapy can help improve mood, reduce discomfort, and help rebalance the endorphins leading to depression and stress. (18)
Laughter therapy can include guided physical laughing and body posturing as well as humor programs. Other methods include clowns or comedy shows. The internet is awash with YouTube laughter therapy videos. You can also contact a hospital or therapy center to ask whether they offer group laughter therapy sessions.
Take care of your body
Overall, a combination of healthy lifestyle factors may have a much stronger impact on your adrenaline levels than a single change. A study of people’s urinary stress hormone levels, including epinephrine and norepinephrine and cortisol, found that people who had a combination of multiple positive health behaviors were likely to have lower levels of stress hormones. These healthy habits included a healthy diet, taking part in some physical activity, not smoking, maintaining a good social support network, and getting enough sleep. (19) Consider these self-care strategies:
- Eat a balanced diet. Consider a diet focused on reducing high blood pressure, if that is a symptom you often have. You can also consider anti-depression diets. Although there is no concrete list of foods that lower adrenaline immediately, diets to reduce stress abound and often are low in refined sugars, starches and saturated fat, and high in vegetables, poly-unsaturated fatty acids, nuts, seeds, whole grains and lean proteins.
- Get seven or eight hours of sleep each night.
- Reduce your sedentary time. Make a point to get up and stretch or walk around for a few minutes every hour, and work other small increases in physical activity into your day.
- Exercise more. Aim for aerobic activity most days of the week. Even five or 10 minutes can start to improve mood, reduce anxiety and provide several hours of relief. (20)
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is linked to increased levels of cortisol, and quitting results in an abrupt and lasting reduction in the levels of this stress hormone in the body. (21)
- Avoid recreational drugs, excessive alcohol intake and drug misuse. (22)
Make lifestyle adjustments as needed
If there are significant stressors in your life, you may need to consider big-ticket changes in order to reduce your stress levels. Consider some of these possible stressors and how you can adjust your life to make things more manageable:
- A stressful job. If your job is a source of constant stress, consider making a change. If you’re not in the position to find a new job, options may include:
- Setting parameters on availability. For example, do not check work email between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
- Working out differences with colleagues. If a particular person is creating a stressful situation, try setting aside time with them to discuss the problem in as neutral a way as possible. If that doesn’t work, reach out to human resources or a trusted coworker to help you find possible solutions.
- Requesting assistance. If your workload has become unmanageable or unreasonable, let your supervisor know. There may be others on the team who can shoulder an increased workload or it may help make the case for a new hire.
- Troubled relationships. High-tension, unhappy, insecure or abusive relationships can be a major source of stress. Consider seeking counseling or setting aside time with your loved one to tackle the issues as a team.
- If you are being abused, consider making a safety plan or reaching out to an abuse hotline for assistance. (23)
- Financial difficulties. Money problems can be a constant stressor. If you are in debt, there are a number of practical ways you can tackle the problem. Develop a budget; evaluate your spending habits; rank your debt repayment priorities; contact your creditors to ask for modified repayment terms and look into debt relief services. If you cannot afford to make payments for housing or food, consider financial assistance programs. (24)
- Caring for aging parents or relatives. Although it can be a tremendous chance for deepening your relationship and growing as an individual, caring for aging relatives can take its toll. Try some self-care tips: (25)
- Be aware of the signs of burnout, such as a change in appetite, getting ill frequently, sleeplessness, depression, or desires to hurt yourself or your loved one.
- Recognize that it’s normal to feel some mixed or negative emotions about caregiving.
- Set realistic goals. You can’t do everything on the to-do list at all times.
- Schedule respite care or regular time for yourself. It’s not selfish — it actually helps you be a better caregiver because you will be healthier and happier.
- Ask others for help. Reach out to family or friends with specific requests or suggestions for how they could help.
- Connect with others. Even just talking about your stress and thoughts can help unburden you and improve your wellbeing.
If you cannot confidently manage your stressors on your own or with the support of loved ones, it may be time to seek help from a professional. Consider counseling offered through your church or community centers. Many health insurance plans and large companies offer free telephone counseling services. You may also be able to self-pay or seek insurance reimbursement for professional therapy, group therapy, life coaching or psychoanalysis.
In clinical studies, aromatherapy has been found to lower levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine, even during childbirth. (26) Even a single massage using essential oil aromatherapy can result in significant reductions in your body’s heart rhythm, brain wave patterns and cortisol excretion. (27) Calming essential oils such as lavender, bergamot, orange oil and many others may help relieve stress and reduce your body’s production of stress hormones, even with short-term sessions. (28, 29)
Consider herbal remedies
Some research supports the use of herbs to regulate mood and relieve stress. Always consult a physician prior to starting new herbal remedies, however, since they can interact with medications and health conditions. Consider some of the herbal remedies below, including Dr. Axe’s list of adaptogenic herbs and supplements to lower adrenaline:
- Panax ginseng
- Holy basil or tulsi
- Indian ginseng (ashwagandha)
- Astragalus root
- Licorice root
- Cordycep mushrooms
You can also try drinking your favorite tea. The polyphenols in tea leaves (both black and green) effectively reduced the stress response in a laboratory study of mice. These and other well-known health benefits of tea make it an attractive way to potentially calm stress. (30)
- Excess, unnecessary adrenaline can cause serious health problems. If you feel like you have adrenaline rushes even without stressful events, or if you have trouble managing your stress levels, talk to a health care professional.
- Symptoms of an adrenaline rush can be confused with serious health conditions, including heart attacks. If you suspect your symptoms are not due to an adrenaline rush, seek urgent medical care.
- Incorrect epinephrine dosages (such as adult doses given to children) or incorrect administration (such as injecting into the vein instead of the muscle) can cause death. Use epinephrine only as prescribed and get trained before use.
- Even with appropriate medical use, epinephrine side effects can be severe and include anxiety, dizziness, dry mouth, increased sweating, headache, nausea and a feeling of weakness.
- Before trying natural remedies for too much adrenaline, consider getting evaluated to find out if your adrenaline levels are indeed too high. Symptoms of excess epinephrine can be mistaken with other conditions.
Key Points about Epinephrine and Adrenaline
- Epinephrine and adrenaline are the same thing: a hormone made by the adrenal glands to help our bodies during “fight-or-flight” moments of acute stress.
- There are many epinephrine functions in the body, including an increase in blood flow to vital organs, opened airways, more sugar in the blood and better vision so that our energy, strength and performance are improved. These effects give the energy and alertness we would need to face or flee a stressor in our environment.
- When there is no real danger present, our bodies may still have epinephrine kicking us into high gear in response to other stressors. This can cause dizziness, light-headedness, a racing heartbeat, anxiety, vision changes and sweaty palms.
- Epinephrine is also used as a medication for severe allergies, asthma attacks and other illnesses.
- True problems with regulating epinephrine levels are rare, but some people do make too much or too little. This may happen as a result of obesity and sleep apnea, chronic stress, adrenal tumors or rare genetic conditions. If you feel you have symptoms of an adrenaline rush without an actual stressor, seek evaluation by a health care professional.
You can manage chronic stress and may be able to lower your body’s production of stress hormones, including epinephrine, by trying some of the following tips:
- Learn effective relaxation techniques
- Get a relaxing hobby
- Make friends — and spend time with them
- Take care of your body
- Make lifestyle adjustments as needed
- Try aromatherapy
- Consider herbal remedies
The post What Is Epinephrine? (+ How to Reduce Adrenaline Production Naturally) appeared first on Dr. Axe.