HPA Axis Dysregulation (a.k.a. Adrenal Fatigue)

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What is HPA axis dysregulation?

The type of low level but chronic stress that we experience in modern life can be destructive to the resilience of our body’s own stress response system, the HPA (Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal) axis. HPA axis dysregulation occurs when constant or frequent stressors disrupt the natural rhythms of cortisol and other hormones. HPA axis dysregulation is typically referred to as “adrenal fatigue,” yet abnormal cortisol levels stem from deeper issues in the brain and central nervous system, rather than a result of the adrenals being “fatigued.” HPA axis dysregulation is important to address because it impacts all other systems of our body, including the gut, brain, heart, thyroid, reproductive system, etc. It’s important to work with a practitioner to address any underlying causes. Natural herbs and supplements that heal and support the HPA-Axis can be helpful when recommended by a practitioner.

Symptoms

Because the HPA axis affects all other aspects of health, the possible symptoms are infinite. Here are some symptoms that are more directly related to it:

  • Low energy/fatigue (especially in the morning)

  • Brain fog or poor memory

  • Low thyroid

  • Cold intolerance

  • Poor digestion

  • Sweet or salty food cravings

  • Sleep disruption or insomnia

  • Hormone imbalance

  • Compromised immune system

  • Blood sugar imbalance

  • Systemic Inflammation

  • Muscle weakness

  • Low blood pressure

  • Decreased ability to handle stress

  • Anxiety or depression

  • Moodiness or irritability

  • Compulsive or addictive behavior

Potential stressors that can disrupt the HPA-Axis include:

  • Over-excercising or lack of movement

  • Environmental toxins

  • Emotional stress or percieved stress

  • Blood sugar imbalance

  • Toxins in the diet or malnutrition

  • Lack of sleep

  • Exposure to artificial light & lack of exposure to natural light

  • Poor gut health or digestive issues

  • Chronic pain or inflammation

  • Drug or alcohol consumption

Diet Tips for Healing the HPA Axis:

  • Eat a nutrient dense diet with whole, unrefined, organic foods

  • Do not skip meals or go too long without eating

  • Eat 3 meals a day, plus snack if needed

  • Avoid large amounts of sugar or refined carbohydrates at one time (to avoid blood sugar spike)

  • Eat enough whole food carbohydrates, especially at night

  • Eat plenty of healthy fat and protein sources

  • Use digestive bitters or digestive enzymes if needed with meals (to increase nutrient absorption)

  • Use real sea salt on all your meals

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, tabacco, and processed/artificial foods

  • Eat mineral rich foods like seaweed, dark leafy greens, and shellfish

  • Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables

Lifestyle Tips for Healing the HPA Axis:

  • Keep exercise gentle

  • Get plenty of rest

  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night

  • Keep a consistent sleep schedule

  • Avoid artificial light at night, wear blue-blocking glasses for screens, sleep in a dark room

  • Get exposure to natural sunlight especially in the morning

  • Avoid exercise at night and get movement in during the morning

  • Remove unnecessary emotional and physical stressors

  • Spend time with loved ones

  • Practice mindfulness and stress reduction (yoga, meditation, reading, breathwork)

  • Process and release any stored trauma or stuck negative emotions