Stress and the HPA Axis: How to Recover

Stress and the HPA Axis: How to Recover

Ah Summer!  Summer and all it's wonderful outdoor activities are great! But what if you are too tired or too anxious for fun things?

Have you ever thought you have or been told that you have adrenal fatigue or the opposite, too much adrenal hormone? Acute and/or pro-longed stress can have a big impact on our stress hormone levels. Many functional medicine practitioners, myself included, suggest special diet or natural herbs or supplements to help with boosting or balancing cortisol levels. These approaches are often helpful but it turns out that the reason they work is different than we thought.  Current scientific evidence indicates that the changes in hormone levels, especially cortisol, are less related to the ability of the adrenals and more from how our brains and nervous systems are regulating them.  The different diets or supplements we may take for our adrenals and HPA axis (hypothalmus-pituitary-adrenal axis) are effective because they support the nervous system which in turn helps us feel an improvement.

Below are a few key areas to consider if you face chronic stress and believe you are experience HPA axis dysfunction:

1. Managing stress. Perhaps the hardest way to change the situation is to work on managing your response to stress. Avoiding or eliminating stressors is good. Where this can't be done, then improving our perception of stress through mindfulness techniques such as meditation can be helpful.  By changing our perceived level of stress, the nervous system is able to function more healthfully and balance HPA axis performance.

2. Blood sugar control.  Insulin and leptin hormone levels can respond strongly to changes in blood sugar leading to symptoms of fatigue or mood imbalances. For many people, moving towards a paleo-type diet or even a ketogenic diet can be invaluable in addressing adrenal-like symptoms by restoring healthy blood sugar control.

3. Address underlying inflammation.  Foods, infections, and contaminants can all cause inflammation via the immune system and this can create symptoms that appear to be related to adrenals and HPA axis.  Identifying and addressing the root cause of the inflammation, which typically includes improving gut health, will also lead to better hormone balance.

4. Circadian/light disruption.  One of the most overlooked areas of health is the role of natural sunlight and it's regulation of circadian rhythm in the body.  The lack of natural light has been replaced with artificial blue light in many Americans' lifestyles leading to the disruption of healthy nervous system and endocrine system function.  Getting outside for natural light first thing in the morning and avoiding artificial light at the end of the day can be invaluable in restoring hormone balance. In addition, many different light filter programs for the computer, special glasses that block blue light (which can lead to cortisol and melatonin deregulation) and near-infrared lighting options can help with this.

Choose the best testing
It can often be helpful to test adrenal hormone levels to get a sense of how the nervous system is impacting hormones. However, you should be careful in choosing adrenal testing as it should be done at specific windows of the day in order to give the most accurate picture of what you are experience.  We are currently offering $45 off the Adrenal Stress Index saliva hormone test kit (Retail price $180, sale price $135) which measures four saliva samples during the day plus a blood sugar sample.  This is one of the best kits available as it tests saliva cortisol within 30 minutes of waking and also includes pre-cursor hormones, measures for inflammation, blood sugar control and food sensitivities.  Contact us for more information.