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What is Vasopressin (ADH)? Functions & Health Implications

Written by Puya Yazdi, MD | Last updated:
Medically reviewed by
Genius Labs Science Team | Written by Puya Yazdi, MD | Last updated:

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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.

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

Puya Yazdi

Puya Yazdi

MD
Dr. Puya Yazdi is a physician-scientist with 14+ years of experience in clinical medicine, life sciences, biotechnology, and nutraceuticals.
As a physician-scientist with expertise in genomics, biotechnology, and nutraceuticals, he has made it his mission to bring precision medicine to the bedside and help transform healthcare in the 21st century.He received his undergraduate education at the University of California at Irvine, a Medical Doctorate from the University of Southern California, and was a Resident Physician at Stanford University. He then proceeded to serve as a Clinical Fellow of The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine at The University of California at Irvine, where he conducted research of stem cells, epigenetics, and genomics. He was also a Medical Director for Cyvex Nutrition before serving as president of Systomic Health, a biotechnology consulting agency, where he served as an expert on genomics and other high-throughput technologies. His previous clients include Allergan, Caladrius Biosciences, and Omega Protein. He has a history of peer-reviewed publications, intellectual property discoveries (patents, etc.), clinical trial design, and a thorough knowledge of the regulatory landscape in biotechnology.He is leading our entire scientific and medical team in order to ensure accuracy and scientific validity of our content and products.

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