Vasopressin, The Antidiuretic Hormone

Vasopressin or arginine vasopressin is one of the best known and important hormones in our body. It is key in homeostasis; that is to say, in the correct electrolyte balance of our organism through the retention and reabsorption of water, sodium and glucose. Also, it is known that this type of oligopeptide also acts as an analgesic reducing pain.

Vasopressin is a natural hormone produced by people as well as a good part of mammals. However, it is known above all for the large number of medical uses of the synthetic version. Thus, it is common to administer it in certain types of diabetes, to treat bleeding, heart problems or even when a patient suffers from a severe infection.

Within that universe that configures endocrinology, we could say that few elements fulfill so many basic tasks and functions for our survival. What’s more, there are curious aspects that we experience very often and that we do not relate to this hormone. For example, it is known that the more stress we suffer, the less vasopressin our body receives.

The consequence of this effect is therefore very broad: greater fluid retention, heart problems, kidney disorders … All that internal balance that this oligopeptide favors is diminished. Therefore, knowing how it works, what functions it performs and what alterations are related to vasopressin can undoubtedly be of great help.

Vasopressin is also used to treat several life-threatening conditions, such as bleeding or septic shock.

What is vasopressin?

Vasopressin was discovered and described for the first time by Turner du Vigneaud in 1950. Thus, far from seeing it as a unitary element, it should be noted that it is actually an oligopeptide, that is, there are up to 9 amino acids in it.

On the other hand, it is important to know that this hormone is produced in the hypothalamus and is secreted through the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, which then releases it into our bloodstream based on different types of needs. They are as follows:

  • In our heart and blood vessels there are various receptors that detect if there is a decrease in blood volume or if, in addition, our blood pressure is falling. These factors are understood as a risk, and as such vasopressin is released.
  • On the other hand, if these receptors detect that there is an excess of salt, they will favor the release of this hormone to make us experience the sensation of thirst before we become dehydrated.
  • Likewise, if at any given moment we experience nausea or pain, this element will also appear.
  • The antidiuretic hormone is also released in response to stress, inflammatory signals and certain medications.

Also, and as a curiosity, it should be noted that the operation and release of this oligopeptide is seriously altered when we ingest alcohol. As explained in a study carried out at the University of Maryland, there is clear evidence of a failure in the regulation of vasopressin, produced by alcohol intake, at the origin of different disorders.

Functions of vasopressin

The functions of vasopressin can be encompassed in two very different types of processes: homeostatic and social. Thus, in addition to those basic tasks with which to safeguard internal balance and with which to prevent from dehydration to acidosis, it is interesting to know that antidiuretic hormone fulfills a strategic purpose in many of our social behaviors and even in cognitive processes. Let’s see it next.


This type of oligopeptide favors the correct electrolyte balance in our body. In addition to favoring the concentration of water, sodium and glucose, thereby enhancing the maintenance of an adequate blood volume and the correct venous return.

In addition, vasopressin, promotes water retention from the kidneys. In this way, we can better control urination and eliminate waste products from time to time. If we couldn’t keep those fluids down, we would suffer continual dehydration. 

Supports the production of red blood cells

Dr.  Bal√°zs Mayer, from the National Research Institute of Maryland, in the United States, conducted a study this year with which to demonstrate something encouraging: vasopressin stimulates the formation of red blood cells. Moreover, it has been shown that it is more potent than erythropoietin.

This discovery is now assumed to be promising for the development of new treatments for anemia and even for different types of cancer.

Supports blood pressure

The antidiuretic hormone is characterized by a well-known function: the increase in blood pressure. Furthermore, studies like the one carried out in 2006 show that vasopressin is more effective than epinephrine in cases of asystolic cardiac arrest. Although in most of the times it is preferred to use both hormones in combination.

Reduce pain

Vasopressin often acts as a neurotransmitter. It does so when it interacts with certain neurons to favor different types of processes. One of them is pain reduction. In fact, studies like the one carried out at the University of Montreal in Canada explain something interesting to us.

Vasopressin reduces pain in stressful situations. That is, when we go through times characterized by high anxiety and stress, the application of synthetic vasopressin reduces the classic muscle pain, headaches, etc.

Memory and learning

Another effect that vasopressin has on our body, and more specifically on the brain, is the improvement of memory and learning (De Wied and Versteeg, 1993). This set of amino acids is believed to act in the hippocampus by promoting the formation of memories. 

Bonding and nurturing

The vasopressin mediates and favors the bonding process between mother and child. Likewise, it has been seen that it also has a very relevant effect on the figure of the father: it increases in him the desire for protection, care and attention during the process of pregnancy with the mother and also in raising the newborn.

To conclude, it should be noted that many more functions of vasopressin are still being investigated (and experimented with) today. In certain countries, for example, a type of “nasal spray” based on this concentrated hormone has been developed to treat amnesia related to addiction processes.

We are therefore facing a future full of possibilities that involves a much better understanding of this fascinating universe of endocrinology. We will be pending.