Summer has begun, and with it comes extended daylight. For many people, these long days are brimming with vacations, parties, and other enjoyable events. While these activities are most certainly fun, there could also be an element of stress involved. How our bodies handle stress, whether big or small, is important to our well-being, and excessive stress can be problematic for our overall health. To get a better glimpse at how the body manages the triggers of stress, you must go to the source of it all—the HPA axis.

What is the HPA axis?

The HPA axis is the interaction that exists between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands. This axis is the interconnecting of the central nervous system with the endocrine system and is responsible for regulating functions such as stress response in the body.

When a person is experiencing chronic stress, the HPA axis is continually releasing hormones, basically sending the system into overdrive. The hormones’ accelerated production affect the glands to the point that they stop recognizing signals. When signals become dulled, the production of hormones drastically reduce, throwing the HPA axis into dysfunction.

Is HPA axis dysfunction the same as adrenal fatigue?

HPA axis dysfunction is often confused with the term “adrenal fatigue.” Remember that the adrenal glands are only one part of the three-factor equation. When the body is struggling under the weight of stress, several symptoms can arise, and these symptoms are the result of an imbalance in the entire HPA axis.

So how do I know if I’m suffering from an HPA axis dysfunction?

Our bodies are designed to give warning signs, alerting us to an invading threat to our health. With HPA axis dysfunction, there are multiple symptoms that can arise such as:

    • Fatigue
    • Cravings for foods loaded with salt and fat
    • Weakness in muscles
    • Increased menstrual cycles
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Dizziness when getting up from a sitting/laying down position
    • Brain fog
    • Increase in abdominal fat
    • Poor circulation
    • Blood sugar problems
    • Blood pressure problems
    • Weakened immune system
    • Thyroid dysfunction

HPA axis dysfunction doesn’t just cause fatigue.

It’s easy to see that when stressors overwhelmingly impact the HPA axis, it affects nearly every organ and system in the entire body. A study published by the Journal Arthritis & Rheumatology, in 2007, shows a direct correlation between HPA axis dysfunction and chronic pain. It is also important to note that a disruption in the adrenal glands is one of the strongest indicators of hyperglycemia, which is sequentially associated with diabetes. According to a recent study published by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, a shift in the HPA axis can affect the sleeping pattern, increasing light sleep and wakefulness.

All these symptoms can appear overwhelming, but if we can pinpoint the causes, then balance can be restored to the HPA axis.

What is causing my HPA axis to be dysfunctional?

Stress activates the HPA axis, and therefore chronic stress will overload the system, weakening its function. Stress can come in a plethora of ways such as mentally, physically, and spiritually. Financial strain and family problems could also be sources of a burnout. Stress coupled with poor diet could increase the symptoms.

Nutritional Deficiencies is another cause of HPA axis dysfunction. When we are under significant stress, the body requires nutrient-rich foods. Diets that are high in carbohydrates and low in protein stress the adrenals. 

Toxicity is another stressor to the HPA axis that is usually overlooked, but often play a pivotal role in adrenal burnout. Daily, we are exposed to a myriad of chemicals in the air, water, food, and products we are in contact with. A healthy body will eliminate these toxins, but when the system is weakened, these toxins can accumulate, triggering harmful reactions.

Stimulants can negatively affect the adrenals. When our body is fatigued, it seems the logical choice would be caffeine, such as coffee, but this can actually damage the adrenal gland. Other stimulants are alcohol and sugar. 

An astounding 66 percent of the world suffers from fatigue in the HPA axis in some form. In the United States, more than 20 percent of all patient contacts in primary care complain of fatigue, resulting in the staggering amount of 18 million physician visits annually.

Can HPA axis Dysfunction be treated?

Of course there are prescription drugs designed to control hormones levels, but with most medications, there are side effects. Such negative effects include weight gain, diabetes, acne, chronic pain, mood swings, abdominal pain, fever, dizziness, heart disease, and more. The great news is that the HPA axis can be healed naturally.

How can I take back my life?

There are several ways to treat the disruption in the HPA axis.

De-stressing is a major catalyst in fixing the imbalance in the stress response system. Since chronic stress was one of the main factors which brought the trouble in the first place, it only makes sense to incorporate ways to reduce and eliminate stress in your daily life. Guard your brain from allowing the harmful negativity to take root. Relaxing the mind through meditation, mindfulness techniques, tai chi, and yoga are beneficial ways to improve mental clarity and lessen strain.

Diet is crucial concerning the healing of the HPA axis. The foods you eat are a major line of defense combatting both stress and fatigue.

    • Proteins (Lean meats, fish, eggs, chicken)
    • Fats (avocado, nuts, seeds)
    • 5-6 servings of vegetables
    • Goat dairy products
    • Drink plenty of water

Foods to avoid are:

    • Sugary foods
    • Fast food
    • Coffee
    • Refined carbs
    • Processed foods

Along with a nutrient-rich diet there are supplements that can be taken to help restore health to the HPA axis including:

    • Vitamin C
    • High strength B-complex
    • Fish oil
    • Ashwagandha

Lifestyle changes are also encouraged, such as getting extra rest and exercising. Take opportunities to enjoy new things by adopting a hobby or spending time in the sun. HPA axis dysfunction does not have to rule your existence. Take charge of your health by decreasing stress and embracing life. 

For a more personalized coaching and guidance on your healing journey, schedule an appointment with any of our featured practitioners.

Ronit Mor, ND

Ronit Mor, ND

Ronit Mor, ND, is the founder of My Wellbeing Compass and Mor Wellness Concepts. As a naturopath and a clinical aromatherapist, her greatest passion is educating, empowering and inspiring people on their path to regaining optimal vitality and wellbeing. She is also an author, regularly contributes articles to different publications, and is a local and an international speaker. Clients seeking her out for health and wellness are interested in increasing energy and vitality, improving chronic conditions, shedding excess weight, and slowing down/reversing aging indications. She guides them on matters pertaining to nutrition, detoxification, plant medicine, stress management, and a variety of alternative healing modalities.