Why do we blush

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Has an embarassing, frightening or stressful situation ever made you blush?
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Why do we blush? This primitive, universal trait is linked to the adrenal gland

Just the other day, I was shopping in the grocery store when I accidentally bumped into a stacked display of soda bottles.

Before I had time to prevent the disaster, the entire display came tumbling over, and soda bottles went rolling down the aisles.  As pressure built up in the shaken bottles rolling across the supermarket, a few began spraying soda onto the floor.

The commotion had attracted attention, and I noticed that several shoppers and cashiers were staring at me.  Instantly, I felt my face and neck flush and I could tell my body temperature was rising.  I was blushing from embarrassment.

As a store clerk arrived with a mop to help clean up the mess, I began to wonder, why do we blush?  What is it exactly that causes this highly visible, involuntary response to common emotions such as fear, anger, shame, guilt, embarrassment, excitement or even sexual arousal?

Why do we blush?  The answer, although logical, has far more medical complexity than most people realize.  Blushing is activated by the autonomic nervous system, the same system that governs our fight-or-flight response, an uncontrollable response to stressful or dangerous situations.  When we are embarrassed, afraid, or aroused, our bodies release adrenaline.

Learning about adrenaline, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, is a significant step in deciphering the puzzling question of why do we blush.  Adrenaline accelerates the heart rate and dilates blood vessels and bronchial passages, helping to oxygenate our blood, thus preparing us to run from dangerous situations.

The ruddy, red color that appears on our faces during embarrassing or emotional moments is merely a result of the body’s production of adrenaline.  Why do we blush?  Facial skin simply has wider capillaries and more blood vessels than other areas of our skin.  Thus, blushing is more visible on our faces than anywhere else on our bodies.

For the most part, blushing is a perfectly normal characteristic unique to humans.  However, some extreme cases of blushing can be cause for medical concern.  Blushing linked to the consumption of alcohol may indicate a deficiency of an important enzyme known as ALDH2, which puts drinkers with this deficiency at a higher risk for some types of cancer.

Extreme or severe blushing or blushing accompanied by facial sweating may be a sign that an individual suffers from a medical ailment known as adrenal dysfunction.  Adrenal dysfunction can be treated with adrenal steroid hormones, with naturopathic herbs, such as licorice root, that help to regulate the adrenal glands, or with more invasive techniques such as surgeries that may involve the clipping of certain tiny nerves in the spine.  Anyone concerned about extreme blushing should visit a doctor to inquire about a diagnostic test to determine whether adrenal dysfunction may be the underlying cause. 

The next time you find your self in an embarrassing situation, perhaps dragging a stray piece of toilet paper from your shoe as you exit the restroom, or perhaps, in the middle of an important business meeting, noticing that your fly is unzipped, you may find your self wondering, why do we blush?  Hopefully, you will be able to find some comfort in the fact that blushing is one of the most basic, primitive, and universal conditions of the human species.  

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