Ouabain, a circulating hormone secreted by the adrenals, is pivotal in cardiovascular disease. Fact or fantasy?

J Hypertens. 2009 Jan;27(1):3-8. doi: 10.1097/HJH.0b013e32831101d1.


Substantial evidence points to the presence in human plasma of an inhibitor of the sodium/potassium pump which plays a central role in the pathophysiology of circulatory disorders, including essential hypertension. Studies from the 1980/90s claimed that this inhibitor was identical or very similar in structure to plant-derived ouabain and was synthesized by the adrenal cortex. However, the physical evidence in studies reporting isolation and identification of ouabain in human plasma appears insecure on closer examination. Additionally, reported circulating levels of immunoreactive ouabain in humans vary greatly, the ability of the human adrenal glands to secrete ouabain is questionable and the original commercial assay for measuring immunoreactive ouabain is no longer available. We submit that the position of ouabain as an endogenous, adrenally produced regulator of the sodium pump is of such importance that the current evidence needs either to put on a more secure footing or to lose its current status.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Cardenolides / administration & dosage
  • Cardenolides / blood*
  • Cardenolides / isolation & purification
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Diet
  • Humans
  • Ouabain / blood*
  • Ouabain / isolation & purification
  • Saponins / administration & dosage
  • Saponins / blood*
  • Saponins / isolation & purification
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Cardenolides
  • Saponins
  • digoxin-like factors
  • Ouabain
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase