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What to know about norepinephrine

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What is norepinephrine?Norepinephrine deficiencyLifestyle changesMedicationSummary
Norepinephrine is a chemical your brain produces to keep you alert and give you energy. If your norepinephrine levels are not balanced, it can cause symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Medically reviewed by Yalda Safai, MD, MPH
Written by D. M. Pollock
Updated on

Norepinephrine, or noradrenaline, is a hormone and neurotransmitter that increases or maintains your blood pressure levels.

This causes your energy levels and heart rate to rise, creating an adrenaline rush — or your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response kicking in.

But your brain constantly releases this hormone, not just when you need to spring into action. This can happen in situations as simple as getting off the couch.

If your norepinephrine levels are unbalanced, you may experience several side effects. For example, too much norepinephrine can cause anxiety, while too little can cause depressive symptoms.

What is norepinephrine?

Male laying down with a small dog sat on his chest to depict the hormone norepinephrine.
1156960771Richard Bailey/Getty Images

Norepinephrine is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced by the locus coeruleus area of the brain, which allows you to be alert and awake. It belongs to the catecholamine family, which includes substances such as dopamine and adrenaline.

It helps regulate your stress levels, mood, and ability to concentrate. Norepinephrine does this by sending messages between your nerve cells.

Substances that do this are neurotransmitters. They can influence different parts of your body to regulate many different processes.

These include:

  • heart rate
  • blood pressure
  • fat breakdown
  • blood sugar levels
  • sleep and wake cycle
  • focus
  • memory

Together, these processes are part of your ‘fight or flight’ response. In a stressful or anxiety-inducing situation, your adrenal gland releases norepinephrine, which constricts your blood vessels. This process is called vasoconstriction.

As a result, this increases your blood pressure. It also makes your body break down stores of sugars or glucose to give you an energy boost.

Norepinephrine also plays a role in your daily emotions. Bursts of this hormone can make you feel excited but also make you panic or experience anxiety.

Doctors often prescribe norepinephrine (Levophed) to help treat people who experience low blood pressure levels.

What are the symptoms of norepinephrine deficiency?

If your brain doesn’t produce enough norepinephrine, you can experience a range of symptoms. It can lead to:

  • tiredness
  • low blood sugar levels
  • forgetfulness
  • lack of energy
  • headaches, or migraine
  • lack of concentration
  • trouble focusing
  • depression

If low norepinephrine levels remain untreated, it can cause serious neurodegenerative disorders.

It’s also possible to experience excess norepinephrine. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • anxiety
  • restlessness
  • trouble sleeping
  • cold or pale skin
  • excessive sweating

How to balance norepinephrine levels naturally

According to the Endocrine Society, serotonin is another hormone that works well with norepinephrine. If you notice symptoms of low norepinephrine, you may want to try and boost your levels of serotonin.

You can naturally boost these levels through lifestyle measures. These include:

  • Exercise: According to a 2022 review, exercise increases your brain’s levels of norepinephrine. This can help boost your energy levels.
  • Sleep: According to 2017 research, getting enough quality sleep can help your norepinephrine levels remain balanced. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
  • Diet: Try eating foods that can increase your release of norepinephrine, such as almonds, avocados, and tofu.
  • Doing activities you enjoy: Listening to music or participating in any activity you enjoy helps release dopamine and balance your norepinephrine levels.

Medication options

Norepinephrine deficiency can cause anxiety or depression. A doctor may prescribe serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) to rebalance your hormone levels and relieve your symptoms.

SNRIs are a type of antidepressant, but they’re also effective at treating symptoms of anxiety. They work by stopping norepinephrine from going back into the brain cells that produce them.  

SNRIs include:

SNRIs are medications that carry the risk of serotonin syndrome if you don’t take them as prescribed, or if you combine them with recreational drugs. This is where the levels of serotonin in your brain get too high.

Serotonin syndrome requires urgent medical care.

Symptoms may include:

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Norepinephrine or noradrenaline is a hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for regulating many different bodily processes. It constricts your blood vessels, but also increases your heart rate and focus.

As a result, when the levels of this hormone in your brain aren’t balanced, it can kickstart your ‘fight or flight’ response. When your brain doesn’t produce enough of this hormone, it can lead to depression and anxiety.

Common treatment options include SNRI medications, but increasing your daily physical activity and sleep schedule can also help.

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