By Matt Cusano, Clinical Director
The HPA Axis is a set of three systems.. the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal gland. Essentially, it is a neuro-endocrine system, meaning it deals with both the brain and hormones.
The HPA Axis regulates multiple processes in the body including stress response, digestion, hormone output, mood, and emotions.
A prolonged period of chronically high stress can then lead to HPA Axis dysfunction. HPA Axis dysfunction is when your brain and adrenal communication break down. Your adrenals can misfire hormones or become unresponsive to signals from the brain. People who experience this dysfunction often endure reoccurring gut health issues, imbalances of both their sex and thyroid hormones, blood sugar dysregulation, as well as autoimmune disorders. This dysfunction can also lead to an improper or lackluster response to HRT therapy as well, leaving patients still feeling sub-optimal regardless of increased dosing.
With this dysfunction, your body situates itself to a “new normal” that is very fragile to stressors. Think of this as walking on thin Ice.. one false move (too much accumulated stress) and the ice breaks.
So far, it is unclear whether or not this can be rectified, or if this state of stress fragility is continuous for the remainder of our lives once it’s occurred. Anecdotally, clients who have suffered this dysfunction have not “healed”, but rather, adapted to a new way of life, far more conscious of stressors and how far they can push their bodies. Athletes in particular, have to take a much more conservative approach to how they strategize diet, training, stimulant and PED usage, as all these items can add up to too much accumulated stress and not only cause health complications, but greatly impair physique progress.
In order to avoid HPA Axis dysfunction, it’s important to be conscious of your current lifestyle and actions. Understand that like a car motor, you can only redline for so long before there is long term damage.