Adrenaline: Nature's Safety Net
Last winter we went on our first family ski vacation, and as the kids and I were learning to ski, we noticed that Annie’s numbers were very high. I thought perhaps it was the cold weather, and kept preparing myself for dramatic lows once she warmed up and the effects of all the exercise kicked in. That never happened, and I found myself giving her more and more insulin to try and get the numbers down.
When we returned home and life was back to normal, I asked Dr. Cogen why Annie had been so high. Rather than it being related to the cold, it was the skiing itself, she said - but it could have just as easily been sledding, but probably not ice skating or snow shoeing. I didn’t understand. She explained that when one is participating in a sport like skiing - especially as a beginner, when you are nervous and feeling like your life could be threatened - you are operating on adrenaline. Same thing if you’re on a toboggan hurtling toward, say, a big tree. Or in the front car of a roller coaster. Adrenaline kicks in and we all know that feeling of an adrenaline rush. But in a diabetic, that same adrenaline releases stores of sugar in the liver. In fact, diabetics carry their version of an "epi-pen," called glucagon, to mimic the same effect and release sugar from the liver.
I’ve often said that the phenomenon of the body using adrenaline to release extra reserves of sugar is a gift from God. When a diabetic goes low, the body naturally tries to fix the situation by releasing adrenaline, causing shaky hands and sweating. It’s like an AWACS system, especially for kids and nervous parents who never want the kids to be alone. Because Annie can immediately tell when she is going low - and knows what to do about it - we can trust her to spend time alone or with others who don’t know very well what to do. At night, when she’s asleep, she occasionally goes low and the adrenaline rush of her body trying to remedy the low gets her system going and wakes her up. She bolts awake, scared, and does what every kid does - stumbles into her parents’ room and tells us she "had a bad dream." We check her blood and thank God she didn’t just keep sleeping and slip into a coma. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing.
Mary wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Diabetes.