What is the HPA axis?
The interactions of the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (HPA axis) in response to stress.
How does HPA dysfunction occur?
Examples of stressors that unbalance the HPA axis.
Cortisol production with HPA function leading to dysregulation.
- Poor sleep quality (even if you’re sleeping, you don’t wake feeling rested)
- Trouble sleeping
- (falling asleep or staying asleep)
- Weight gain, especially in the mid-section
- Brain fog
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Hypoglycemia and other blood sugar problems
- All-day fatigue, particularly in the morning and mid-afternoon
- Cravings for salt or salty foods
- Depressed immune system/recurrent illnesses or infections
- Dizziness when standing (orthostatic hypotension)
- Blood pressure issues
- Rise in allergies – food, chemical, or environmental
- Low libido
- Poor muscle tone or loss of muscle mass
- Dry skin
- Slow wound healing
- Inability to concentrate and focus
- Memory problems - can’t remember why you walked into a room or where your car keys are
- Cold hands and feet
How can you treat HPA dysregulation?
HPA axis dysfunction is reversible with changes in lifestyle, diet and some supplements can also assist. Our top tips 6 tips to nourish your HPA axis are listed below:
-Practice an energy art like Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong or Meditation
These energy arts can all be described as meditative exercises and all involve relaxation and concentration, a focus on the breath, and gradual and purposeful movement. Energy arts have the ability to bring peace and tranquility back to the mind, whilst allowing the HPA to gently find its harmonious rhythm again. For thousands of years cultures around the world have used such techniques to de-stress and maintain good health and well-being through protecting their healthy HPA function. Practicing for 30-45 minutes 2-3 times per week can go a long way to improving your HPA function.
-Reduce Primary Stressors
If the main source of your stress is something you can cut out of your life (or reduce significantly), then you should consider doing so. This could mean a job change, speaking to a friend less often, a dietary change, eliminating an inflammatory source, eliminating stressors, taking up a new sport or hobby and eliminating a bad one or simply making the choice to find time for yourself instead of overextending your commitments. Also find a way to channel your stress into something positive that helps you relax, take it out at the gym in surfing in the ocean.
-Make Sleep a Priority
Getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night can be difficult for some, but if you’re experiencing HPA axis dysfunction symptoms, it’s critical to make sleep a priority in your life. Getting the physical rest you need will help your body recover, and will do wonders for your mental state. If you struggle to get to sleep at night consider using a sleeping app like Sleepio or some meditative audio to gentle drift you off to sleep. Don’t eat or drink late at night and avoid working or using electronic devices before bed.
-Maintain a Balanced Diet
It’s very important for people experiencing HPA axis symptoms to maintain a healthy balanced diet. The gut-brain connection and issues with leaky gut can rapidly unbalance the HPA axis. Now is not the time for extreme dieting. Stick to a natural whole food diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and stay away from processed foods, sugar and white flour as much as possible. And of course, drink plenty of water to maintain good hydration. One thing you may want to avoid (or limit) for at least a little while is alcohol. As alcohol is a depressant, it might be a good idea to limit your intake for a bit. For dietary ideas of what to eat and avoid download our HPA healthy food guide.
Exercise can be a big stress reliever. Get up and get your body moving for at least 30 minutes 3-4 times per week. It doesn’t have to be rigorous or difficult, but you should do something you enjoy – something that helps you relax and clear your mind. It may be walking, hiking, swimming or biking (even if it’s on a stationary bike), or some light weight training. The point is to move your muscles, increase your circulation, breathe deeply and relax your mind. If you are suffering from chronic fatigue or find exercise creates post exertional fatigue then we advise you to focus on low impact forms like qigong or yoga that have a focus on meditative practice, strength building and breath-work. Exercising daily also helps you sleep better.
-Use an adaptogenic plant like maca (lepidium meyenii)
Maca is a unique root vegetable from the Andes of Peru that has been used for centuries to bring balance and harmony back to the body during times of stress. Maca works as an adaptogen to regulate the HPA axis indirectly through the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Regular consumption of maca has been shown to improve components of the HPA axis, reduce down inflammatory levels, improve mitochondrial function, energy levels as well as cognition, mood and mental health.8 Not all maca is equal and there are also different colours of maca for different conditions. So to find the right maca for your condition we advise you to visit The Maca Experts to get a customised maca plan.