Feeling that adrenaline kick in when you're under stress can sometimes get you through some tough situations, but the effects are unpleasant when you don't need that adrenaline rush.
Adrenaline, also called epinephrine is the "fight or flight" hormone that allows you to have more energy when you need it, according to the Endocrine Society, but don't try and add more through food or supplements.
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"There are no foods that can give you high enough epinephrine levels that you would notice. Even if there were, you would want to avoid them, because high levels of epinephrine are dangerous. There would be no benefit to producing an adrenaline rush," says Anupam Kotwal, MD, an endocrinologist and assistant professor of medicine at University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
What Is Adrenaline?
Adrenalin is a chemical messenger — a hormone — produced in your adrenal glands, which are located at the top of your kidneys. Your adrenal glands release adrenaline into your blood when you are under what you perceive as stress.
It can come on for lots of reasons you've probably felt before: It's almost your turn to get up and speak, the rollercoaster ride is about to descend, you're about to meet your partner's parents, your doctor is calling. Times like this can make your heart beat fast and send a surge of sensations throughout your body. This reaction is your body's response to a "threatening" situation.
As part of the adrenaline rush, your lungs open up and give you more oxygen, too. These high epinephrine levels also cause your blood vessels to force more blood into your muscles, per the Endocrine Society.
A rush of adrenaline can also give you a short burst of strength and energy during which you feel less pain and experience heightened awareness. Keep in mind, adrenaline is not your only stress hormone. Your adrenal glands also produce the stress hormones norepinephrine and dopamine. Together these hormones are called catecholamines, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Can You Have Too Much Adrenaline?
A rush of adrenaline might sound like something you would want more of, but without the stress that requires adrenaline, the effects are actually pretty uncomfortable. Symptoms of high adrenaline include:
"High levels of epinephrine are dangerous. Over time high epinephrine can even lead to heart disease. Supplements that claim to increase adrenaline levels are dangerous and should be avoided. You may have a headache, sweats, shortness of breath and shaking," Dr. Kotwal says.
How Is High Epinephrine Diagnosed?
Stressed out lately? It could be causing symptoms of high epinephrine, per the Endocrine Society. Or, in rare cases, you might have an abnormal release of epinephrine and other catecholamines from your adrenal glands. You should let your doctor know if you notice any of the symptoms above.
If you and your doctor think you may have excessive epinephrine circulating, a test may be ordered that looks for catecholamines in your urine. High levels, along with high blood pressure and other symptoms may indicate a tumor called pheochromocytoma, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Before you have this test, you may be told to avoid certain foods like chocolate, bananas, vanilla, citrus, avocados, fava beans, walnuts and licorice. This may have led to the belief that certain foods could increase epinephrine and give someone an adrenaline rush or more energy.
"These foods do not have a noticeable effect on epinephrine and they do not affect the newer tests we use today. We still tell people to avoid certain medications, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine," Dr. Kotwal says.
Can You Have Low Adrenaline?
You may have heard of a condition called adrenal fatigue that causes tiredness due to low levels of adrenal hormones — and that you could treat it with adrenal supplements. There is no evidence that this condition is real, and these supplements should be avoided, according to the Endocrine Society.
There is however a real medical condition called adrenal insufficiency, which is caused by adrenal gland disease or from a problem with your pituitary gland, and may cause:
- Weight loss
- Low blood pressure
- Stomach pain
Be sure to tell your doctor about these symptoms. Adrenal insufficiency may be treated with medications that replace the adrenal gland hormones, according to the Endocrine Society.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.