We know that many areas and systems in the body work together for our general health and wellbeing. This is a wonderful thing but it also means that when they are not working together well, or one is under or overactive, it may compromise our health. The HPA axis is one of those components of the human body that when in dysfunction, may disrupt a number of other areas of the body and our overall health as a result. Naturopathic Doctor & Daily Review explains what the HPA axis (also known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis) is and what role it plays in our health, “The HPA axis is an intricate intertwining of the central nervous system and the endocrine system that involves the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands. Through a set of direct influences and feedback interactions, the HPA axis controls the adaptation response to stress and regulates many physical processes, including digestion, the immune system, sexuality, mood, and energy storage and expenditure.”
Chronic stress is one of the most common triggers of HPA axis dysfunction. For the majority of people, stress is hard to avoid. And, in fact, most of us probably deal with chronic stress more often than we realize. But, while we can try to run from stress, our bodies can never truly hide from it if it is there. The HPA axis is one of those things that will ultimately demand attention if it is not properly regulated because we will lose quality of life in a variety of areas. Anxiety, loss of sleep, weight gain, irritability, exhaustion – most of these are symptoms we would like to avoid but they are exactly what often what plagues us when we are experiencing HPA axis dysfunction.
While the term “adrenal fatigue” has become very popular, it does not adequately address what HPA Axis dysfunction really is or the overall impact it can have on the body. Dr. Jolene Brighten explains this further, “While your adrenal symptoms and anxiety are very real, adrenal fatigue is not. Your adrenals (unlike your ovaries) should never give out. Instead, this is more accurately HPA dysregulation, that is your brain and adrenal communication is breaking down. You can read about how Adrenal Fatigue is not real in this article. Ultimately, this consistent anxiety can lead to HPA dysregulation. Your adrenal glands can misfire hormones or become unresponsive to signals from the brain, which causes fatigue, loss of libido, poor memory, depressed immune system, increased PMS symptoms, and hormonal imbalance. Without intervention, your HPA axis falls into a deeper state of dysfunction and stress.”
If you are experiencing the symptoms of HPA Axis dysfunction, it is important to consult your physician and discuss what would be best fo your individual health and wellness. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to naturally support your HPA Axis including a healthy diet, stress reduction through things like meditation, yoga, exercise, deep breathing, and the addition of certain adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha, ginseng, holy basil, and more. Consult your physician before making any changes to your diet, supplement, and exercise routine.