The HPA Axis is something of a buzzword in health and wellness circles. Today let’s take a look at the function of the HPA Axis and what happens when it begins to function improperly.
HPA stands for hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal, which includes:
- Hypothalamus– The hypothalamus is a section of your forebrain. It allows your autonomic nervous system to work with your endocrine system and with your pituitary gland. The hypothalamus regulates sleep, hunger and thirst, emotions, body temperature, and more; or in other words, it allows you to maintain homeostasis.
- Pituitary Gland– Often referred to as the Master Gland, the pea-sized pituitary sits at the base of your brain. It regulates the other endocrine gland (including the thyroid…the pituitary produces TSH, which in turn makes your thyroid gland function).
- Adrenal Glands– Your adrenal glands produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Each adrenal sits atop one of your kidneys.
The HPA Axis affects a great number of bodily functions including immunity, metabolism, mood, stress response, motivation, and energy levels. Each part of the axis affects the function of the others, so when one part begins to dysfunction, the remaining two parts will begin to suffer as well. HPA Axis dysfunction typically begins to happen after periods of chronic stress. When your body produces stress hormones for too long, you can become desensitized to those hormones, which makes homeostasis difficult to maintain.
There are four primary hormones produced by the HPA Axis, which all work together:
- Cortisol– Cortisol gets most of the attention due to its role in chronic stress, but it doesn’t work alone. Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenals, and can be triggered by acute stress, such as a car accident, or chronic stress, like your job.
- Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH)– This may also be referred to as corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). Also inspired by both acute and chronic stress, this hormone is released by the hypothalamus, which then stimulates the pituitary gland to release ACTH.
- Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH)– Released by the pituitary; it causes the adrenals to produce glucocorticoids.
- Glucocorticoids– There are numerous glucocorticoids, cortisol being just one. Glucocorticoids are steroids that reduce inflammation and help to regulate the immune system.
You may notice above that the process is a cascade: CRH triggers ACTH; ACTH triggers glucocorticoids and so on. When one of the steps gets interrupted, the rest do as well.
What About Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal Fatigue (or adrenal exhaustion) is another term that is commonly heard in health and wellness circles. It is often used to describe reduced cortisol levels brought on by lengthy periods of chronic stress. However, it isn’t well supported by science, and in truth, it is the entire HPA Axis that needs attention and support. The term Adrenal Fatigue would be better replaced by the term HPA Axis Dysfunction.
Symptoms of HPA Axis Dysfunction
These symptoms, which may mimic symptoms of other conditions as well, include:
- Low Blood Sugar
- Salt Cravings
- Frequent Illness (Compromised Immune System)
- Brain Fog
- Hair Loss
- Dizziness (especially when going from sitting to standing)
- Low Body Temperature
An experienced practitioner can help you determine if you are experiencing HPA Axis dysfunction and may also order hormone testing to confirm. At Body in Harmony, we have helped many of our patients navigate HPA Axis dysfunction. Contact us today to schedule a consultation, where we can discuss how HPA Axis support might help you.
How to Support Your HPA Axis
To support the HPA Axis, first incorporate stress reduction techniques, such as:
- Time in Nature
- Prayer and Meditation
- Diet and Supplementation
- Breathing Exercises
- NUCCA Care
- Social Support
- Creating Order in Your Space
In a previous article, we discussed many of these stress reduction techniques. Here are a few supplements that provide fantastic support for the HPA Axis and are available in our office.
- Hypothalamus PMG – the DNA extract of the hypothalamus gland. It stops autoimmune assault on the Hypothalamus, so it can repair and regenerate when you use supportive nutrients.
- Hypothalmex– the cytosol extract of the hypothalamus gland. Cytosol extracts are an extract of cell fluid, an enzyme and nutrient concentrate, which optimizes the function of that tissue and is used for rapid repair.
- Pituitrophin PMG – the DNA extract of the pituitary gland. It stops autoimmune assault on the Pituitary, so it can repair and regenerate when you use supportive nutrients.
- Drenamin– a combo of Cataplex C for adrenal support; Cataplex G, a calming complex that supports hormone production, and Drenatrophin PMG, which stops autoimmune assault of the adrenal glands. Additional ingredients provide dense nutrition for the adrenals.
At Body in Harmony, we believe a major facet of whole person healthcare includes supporting our bodies during and after times of prolonged stress. Contact us today to discuss techniques that will support your HPA Axis now and into the future!