Adrenaline, also known as Adrenalin (which is a trademark discovered by a Japanese chemist, Jokichi Takamine in 1853-1922), is a hormone secreted by the adrenal medulla, when a person is under stress; its production results in a faster heart rate, pulse rate and increased blood pressure. It is used in the treatment of asthma, when extracted from animals. Its chemical name is aminohydroxyphenylpropionic acid the scientific formula is C9H13NO3. It is also sometimes referred to as epinephrine in the medical community. The word “adrenaline” was coined and trademarked by a pharmaceutical company and is today popularly known as so to prevent confusion.
Its main work is to increase blood pressure and activate glucose reserves that in turn increases the concentration of glucose in blood; and also activates fats (by hastening conversion of glycogen to glucose) for preparation for fighting. It causes dilated air passages that help to let more oxygen into the body to allow it to function more efficiently. Adrenaline improves the force of muscular contractions and suspends the feeling of fatigue.
This condition, however, happens so fast, in two to three minutes of the stressful event (Jeff 2012). When the stress ends, the body goes back to normal; the nerve impulses that are sent to the adrenal glands reduce and trigger the adrenal glands to stop producing adrenaline.
Sometimes substances containing adrenaline are used during various sports competitions as stimulants. However, such practices are banned by the International Olympic Committee; they give an unfair advantage to those, who use them by improving their performance. Nevertheless, it is a good thing, since it prepares the body to act defensively, when it is confronted with mental or physical stress by increasing the heart rate and force, blood pressure, blood flow to skeletal and cardiac muscles while decreasing the blood flow to less important areas like the gut or skin. This, in turn, gives extra energy to the body that can enable it to perform outrageous tasks such as lifting very heavy items that one would otherwise not be able to in normal circumstances. This is what is commonly referred to as “flight-or-fight”. The flight-or-fight response was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon. He reckons that animals react to the threat by discharging the sympathetic nervous system, thus preparing themselves for fight or flight which regulates stress responses among vertebrates and other organisms (John & John 2003).
Adrenaline in Animals
Taking an example of a grazing zebra; if it sees a lion approaching, its stress response is triggered, which in turn activates the sympathetic nervous system that provides the intense muscular effort and the body’s support to make an escape. Another example is of a cat being confronted by a dog; its heartbeat increases, its hair stands (this is known as piloerection and helps to conserve heat), and pupils dilate. These show signs of the sympathetic hormone arousal. Other examples include rats trying to escape, when threatened but fight, when cornered; other animals stand still, so that they cannot be seen; others “play dead”, when touched, hoping the predator will lose interest, yet others change color or camouflage themselves. All these methods are used to escape when being caught (John 2005). Fight or flight actions also can either be running away from or running towards something for safety. A hungry lion can run towards a prey or a human can swim or aim for the shore of a raging river for safety.
Adrenaline in Humans
In humans fight is demonstrated by the aggressive physical behavior, while the flight is demonstrated by fleeing threatening situations. Males and females try to confront stressful situations differently; males tend to use “fight” more commonly and females tend to use “flight” most of the time. Adrenaline is also available as an injection. Such an injection can be used to control anaphylactic shock that results from severe allergic reactions. In humans adrenaline is also required for regular exercise, which is a good practice in maintaining a healthy and fit body. It is also useful when on break from the normal stresses and strains of work and life and when participating in extreme sports or recreation. Such activities keep the body and mind healthy.
Looking at some examples:
In 2006 in a place called Tucson, in Arizona, a guy named Tim Boyle witnessed a car hit an 18-year-old boy named Kyle Holtrust. The car pinned him underneath it, while he was still alive. Boyle ran to the scene and lifted the car off the teenager, while the driver pulled the 18-year-old to safety. In 1982, in a place called Lawrenceville, Georgia, Angela Cavallo managed to lift a 1964 Chevrolet Impala from her son, who was working underneath it when the car fell off the jacks that had held it. She lifted the car and held it long enough for the two neighbors to pull Tony from beneath. In High Island, Texas, Marie Payton was cutting her lawn when the machine got away from her. Her granddaughter, Evie tried to stop the mower, but was instead knocked underneath while it was still running. Payton reached the machine and with ease managed to remove it off Evie. Later on, when she tried to lift the mower again, she was weak and not able to do it (David 2006).
In Ivujivik, Quebec, 2006, a lady by the name Lydia Angyiou wrestled with a polar bear that wanted to attack her son and another boy, whom they were playing hockey with. She fought the bear while the boys ran to get help. The bear ended up losing the fight as Angyiou sparred it long enough for a neighbor to shoot it four times before it died. Though these feats of hysterical strength caused by adrenaline occur during high-stress situations, the actions are not medically recognized mainly since it is difficult to collect evidence. The situations also occur abruptly and trying to reproduce them in a scientific environment would be dangerous. This is not to say that they are not real. This is just a way to say that supernatural strength is unlocked when we are confronted with danger.
It is rare to get a situation where adrenaline is overproduced, but if it occurs it can be explained by a rare tumor of the adrenal medulla (phaeochromocytoma). Signs of this include high blood pressure and heart beat, too much sweating, anxiety, loss of weight and palpitations. Too little adrenaline is also rare. It would lead to the inability of the body to prepare for action when it encounters stressful physical or mental situations (James 2001). There are some things that we would lose in exchange of the supernatural burst of energy caused by an adrenaline rush:
- Time Distortion (the slow motion effect) – time would seem to either speed up or slow down as the body focuses only on the danger at hand;
- Depth perception (Visual Distortion) – items appear magnified e.g. a knife appearing as a machete, reason being that the brain is focused so much on the danger that is present;
- Tunnel Vision – it is similar to depth vision, but here the peripheral vision can drop away leaving only the threat;
- Auditory Exclusion – the sense of hearing can disappear, since the brain is only focused on the threat. One could fail to hear a very loud bang that is so close to them;
- Pain Tolerance – one would fail to feel any pain during this situation no matter how much of it is inflicted;
- Speed and Strength Increase – though a person is able to do unbelievable things when filled with this energy, they often end up damaging some part of their bodies while doing it, e.g. back aches, torn muscles, etc.;
- Fine Motor Movement Decay – this can also be referred to as trembling;
- Changes in blood flow/heartbeat – heart beat and blood pressure would increase, but also veins would contract and expand to divert blood to where it is needed most;
- Changes in respiratory rate – breathing levels change leading even up to hyperventilation;
- Unconscious Muscle Tension – some muscles contract and others relax; hence, aching in places that were not even involved in the situation;
- Mono-emotion (Emotional Detachment) – there could be one overwhelming emotion that blocks all others or one could experience emotional detachment;
- Bladder/Bowel Release – one could lack control of the secretion of feces and urine during this time;
- Erection – this is common in males as a result of violent conflict with another human.
Other long-time side effects of adrenaline in the artificial form could include a sudden raise in blood glucose levels and blood pressure. In the dental arena epinephrine shots can cause systemic toxicity or tissue necrosis. Also if the clinical form of adrenaline (in other words, epinephrine shots) is taken excessively or over a long period of time, it can induce pulmonary edema (which is the abnormal amount of fluid in the air sacs of the lungs which may lead to the shortness of breath. This makes the heart being not able to pump blood sufficiently to the body since the blood is backed up in the veins making itself not able to reach the left side of the heart) and arrhythmia (this is a situation where the heart beats irregularly, it may beat slower than usual, which is called bradycardia; or faster than expected, which is called tachycardia. Most arrhythmias are harmless but some are life threatening). Another side effect of this is cerebral hemorrhage (sometimes called intracerebral hemorrhage, ICH. It occurs within the brain tissue, caused by a brain tumor or stroke. It results in bleeding into the brain tissues).
There are also certain post-effects after the adrenaline wears off. The events of the aftermath occur differently to different people and to varied degrees from person to person:
- Nausea (“motion sickness”, feeling sick, queasy or uneasiness in the upper stomach and about to vomit). One could also feel exhausted, feeling as though the body is tired or fatigued. The brain also feels as though it has been overworked without any explanation. The muscles also feel as though one has been exercising and may even feel a bit sleepy;
- Post Incident Soreness – some muscles may be achy;
- Hypo-mania – this is the presence of the adrenaline may still be present causing a person to get the jitters, to fidget, pace about, mumble, shout or yell;
- Horniness – this occurs in some people, mostly males, who become hypersexual when they experience dangerous situations;
- Bad Dreams (Restless Sleep) – a person would sleep heavily due to exhaustion, while another one would have bad dreams and, therefore, not sleep well at all or have weird dreams;
- Post Incident Resurgence – this could happen between 24 to 48 hours after the incident where a person finds themselves in the same situation they were in or the same incident seems to be occurring again, sometimes imaginative.
When adrenaline is released by the adrenal medulla (this is the inner part of the adrenal glands located above the kidneys), it enables the blood to flow easily to the muscles. More oxygen then gets carried to the muscles by the extra blood; hence, making the muscles to function more efficiently. The skeletal muscles (muscles attached to the bones by tendons) are activated by the electrical impulses from the nervous system. When stimulated, the muscles contract and, therefore, shorten and tighten. The adrenaline produced, like noradrenaline, is used as a transmitter by some nerve cells that enable it to communicate with other cells. These types of cells are called neurotransmitters. But very small amounts of adrenaline are used as neurotransmitters. Repeated adrenaline rush could lead to panic disorders or anxiety disorders that in turn could lead to the bigger problems, where a person could suffer from various phobias e.g. agoraphobia (fear attacks).
In conclusion, adrenaline that is produced naturally helps to prepare the body for action in times of heightened stressful situations. It helps the body to react in ways it never has before and never would under the normal circumstances. Adrenaline in the form of injections is used in clinically proven ways like to cure allergies and so on. Adrenaline is sensitive to light; it should be stored below 25°C and should not be refrigerated or frozen. Adrenaline is, therefore, worth the risk in protecting animals or humans from harm or danger.