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What is Vasopressin (ADH)? Functions & Health Implications

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:
Medically reviewed by
SelfDecode Science Team | Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:
Vasopressin

Vasopressin, otherwise known as Antidiuretic Hormone (ADH), has roles in water balance and blood pressure, but it’s also sought after as a smart drug. This post reveals the roles of vasopressin, health implications of high/low levels, and factors that impact secretion.

What is Vasopressin?

Role in the Body

Why is it so important? Vasopressin plays a major role in keeping the body hydrated, the mind sharp, and the mood bright.

  • For athletes: too high vasopressin levels may result in difficulty holding onto salt, a key electrolyte.
  • For those concerned about mental sharpness: vasopressin is considered a “smart drug” by many and is being studied as a treatment for dementia.
  • For those struggling with frequent urination or bedwetting: low vasopressin may play a role.
  • For those who feel nauseated after drinking a lot of water or get headaches after intense exercise: high vasopressin may be involved.
  • For those feeling constantly thirsty and always running to the bathroom, low vasopressin may play a role [1].
  • It may also play a role in stress and/or chronic inflammation [2].

Although it’s seldom discussed, even in health circles, vasopressin clearly plays a major role in our everyday health and well-being. This post discusses how it can manifest in different health conditions.

Overview

Vasopressin is otherwise known as Arginine-Vasopressin (AVP) because in most species it contains arginine. It is produced by the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland in the brain.

It’s also called Antidiuretic Hormone (ADH) because it reduces urination (diuresis).

Vasopressin is especially active at night, eliminating the need to go to the bathroom every couple of hours, and allowing you to sleep straight through until morning [3, 4].

Besides helping the body to retain water, is also constricts blood vessels, which increases blood pressure. You can think of it as inhibiting flow – of water and of blood. That’s where the name “vasopressin” comes from – causing a restriction in blood vessels.

How Vasopressin Affects the Brain

It all starts in the brain.

When the brain gets the signal that the body is getting dehydrated (blood pressure is low, blood is highly concentrated), vasopressin is released and the kidneys are given the message to conserve water and prevent the loss of water in the urine. Instead, the urine is more concentrated and water is reabsorbed into the body, diluting the blood, and restoring balance to the body.

Vasopressin does much more than just regulate our water and salt concentrations. It also has a role in memory, regulating blood pressure and body temperature, CRH release, socio-sexual behavior, and even our circadian rhythm [5].

It can act as a neurotransmitter, and it can stimulate the production of other needed neurotransmitters [6].

Vasopressin is also considered to be a stress hormone like cortisol or CRH [7].

Health Effects of Vasopressin

Keep in mind that health effects of vasopressin as a hormone in the body may not translate to the effects of vasopressin administration.

Nootropic Effects

The effects described below are not researched well enough. They stem from low-quality clinical or animal trials.

  • Vasopressin is used as a nootropic/smart drug by some people. It can influence mental clarity, attention to detail, short-term memory [8, 9] and long-term memory [9, 10].
  • It enhances learning in mice [11].
  • It is also being studied for the treatment of memory problems associated with aging, dementia, drug toxicity, and amnesia [8].
  • High Vasopressin can make you more cooperative [12].

Low Vasopressin

Vasopressin levels are a marker of urine and blood flow. Low or high levels don’t necessarily indicate a problem if there are no symptoms or if your doctor tells you not to worry about it.

The following conditions have been linked with low vasopressin:

  • Bed wetting [13].
  • Diabetes Insipidus [14].
  • Insomnia in the elderly [15, 16].
  • Slow gut flow (motility) in the digestive tract (in rabbits) [17]. Vasopressin has also been found in the human digestive tract with implications for involvement there [18].

Factors That May Increase Vasopressin (AVP Promoters)

Addressing your vasopressin levels won’t necessarily cause improvement in blood and urine flow. The following is a list of factors that impact water balance and that may also increase low vasopressin. Though studies suggest various dietary and lifestyle factors may increase vasopressin, additional large-scale clinical trials are needed.

  • Restricting water
  • Dietary Sodium [19]
  • Standing [20]
  • Exercise [21]
  • Sauna [22]
  • Forskolin/cAMP [23]
  • Glycine [24, 25]
  • Rhodiola – Lowers endopeptidase activity, leading to higher vasopressin. Rhodiola sacra [26] and Rhodiola sachalinensis [27].
  • Ginkgo – Lowers endopeptidase activity, leading to higher vasopressin [28]
  • Baicalein – Inhibits endopeptidase, raising vasopressin [29]
  • Berberine – Inhibits endopeptidase, raising vasopressin [30]
  • Acetylcholine – Increases vasopressin (in rat studies) [31]
  • Increased IL-1beta [32]
  • Increased Interleukin-6 [33]
  • Increased CRH [34]
  • Inhibited IGF-1 [35]
  • Increased BMAL1, which is needed for the production of vasopressin [36]
  • Stimulated 5-HT2C receptors, which leads to an increase in vasopressin [37]. Some 5-HT2C activators include Serotonin [37], Ginseng [38], and Bacopa (rats) [39].
  • Nicotine (rabbits, cats, men) [40, 41, 42].
  • Racetams – Raise Acetylcholine, raising vasopressin
  • Pramiracetam – Inhibits endopeptidase, raising vasopressin [43].
  • Desmopressin – Synthetic vasopressin that has 10 times the antidiuretic effects of vasopressin, but 1500 times less of the constricting effect on blood vessels [44].
  • Other Drugs that increase vasopressin: morphine, amitriptyline, barbiturates, desipramine, and carbamazepine (45).

High Vasopressin

Vasopressin levels are a marker of urine and blood flow. Low or high levels don’t necessarily indicate a problem if there are no symptoms or if your doctor tells you not to worry about it.

Associated Conditions

  • Stress – in humans [46, 47] and in rats [48] and mice [49]
  • Pain – in humans [50]
  • High blood pressure [51]
  • Major depression [46]
  • Diabetes (Type 2)
  • Low Cortisol [52]
  • Low sodium/Hyponatremia/Syndrome of Inappropriate Diuretic Hormone (SIADH) secretion
    • Unsteady gait [53]
    • impaired memory [54]
  • Low Thyroid [55]
  • Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome [56]
  • Kidney Stones – Vasopressin causes our urine to be less dilute.
  • High Blood SugarInsulin can cause the release of vasopressin [57]. Vasopressin causes insulin release in mice [1].
  • Low BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen) levels [58]
  • Low Uric Acid levels particularly in SIADH [59]
  • High CRH – Vasopressin releases CRH [34]
  • Anorexia – vasopressin suppresses appetite [60, 61]

Factors That May Lower Vasopressin (AVP Inhibitors)

Addressing your vasopressin levels won’t necessarily cause improvement in blood and urine flow. The following is a list of factors that impact water balance and that may also reduce high vasopressin. Though studies suggest various dietary and lifestyle factors may increase vasopressin, additional large-scale clinical trials are needed.

  • Cold (humans and rats) [62, 63]
  • Lying down – Inhibits vasopressin [64].
  • California Poppy – Has 2 compounds that inhibit the V1 receptor [65, 66].
  • Lithium – In human studies [67].
  • Decrease Interleukin-6 [33].
  • Decrease IL-1beta [32].
  • Decrease CRH – CRH increases Vasopressin [34].
  • Increase MSH – MSH decreases ADH/Vasopressin in rat studies [68].
  • Increase IGF-1, which inhibits vasopressin [35].

Hormones:

  • Increased Progesterone – Progesterone therapy caused a decrease in blood levels of vasopressin [69].
  • Combined Estrogen with Progesterone – There was no change in blood levels of vasopressin with estrogen treatment alone, but following a combined administration of estrogen and progesterone [70].
  • Increased Testosterone [70].

Other:

  • Danggui-Shaoyao-San (Chinese herb formula) (rat and mouse models) [71].
  • Alisma plantago-aquatica – (cell studies) [72].
  • Alcohol – Inhibits vasopressin [73].
  • Decreased BMAL1, which is needed for the production of vasopressin [36].

About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen flipped the script on conventional and alternative medicine…and it worked. Growing up, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, insomnia, anxiety, and other issues that were poorly understood in traditional healthcare. Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a learning journey to decode his DNA and track his biomarkers in search of better health. Through this personalized approach, he discovered his genetic weaknesses and was able to optimize his health 10X better than he ever thought was possible. Based on his own health success, he went on to found SelfDecode, the world’s first direct-to-consumer DNA analyzer & precision health tool that utilizes AI-driven polygenic risk scoring to produce accurate insights and health recommendations. Today, SelfDecode has helped over 100,000 people understand how to get healthier using their DNA and labs.
Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, with a mission of empowering people to take advantage of the precision health revolution and uncover insights from their DNA and biomarkers so that we can all feel great all of the time.

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