The Role of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA) 

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA, is a major player in the body’s stress system. The T in this axis stands for the thyroid gland, and the axis consists of the interconnection of the HPA-T components. When this axis is unbalanced, serious health problems may ensue.

A doctor could check your hormone levels and determine whether your HPA axis is functioning properly. An accomplished doctor could explain the role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) to you. If your hormones are not at the correct levels, hormone therapy may be able to help.

Biology of the HPA

The hypothalamus, located in the brain, sends signals from the brain to the pituitary and adrenal glands. The role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) is crucial in regulating body temperature, energy levels, and the internal clock of the circadian rhythm.

The tiny pituitary gland, attached to the hypothalamus at the brain’s base, produces a variety of critical hormones, including luteinizing hormone, growth hormone, oxytocin, thyroid stimulating hormone, and prolactin.

The two adrenal glands, situated above the kidneys, produce even larger amounts of hormones than the pituitary gland. These include the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, as well as certain sex hormones.

Finally, the thyroid gland, located in the neck, create hormones that regulate body metabolism. Working together, the HPA axis manages a good portion of the body’s neuroendocrine system.

The Stress Response

Humans are hardwired for the fight or flight response, which causes people to either fight or run away from a threatening situation. The HPA axis controls this response in the face of a sudden physical challenge. Muscles start tensing, respiration becomes more rapid, sweating ensues, heart rate increases, digestion ceases, and blood flows to the arms and legs for a faster getaway.

The urge to urinate or defecate may occur, as getting rid of these unnecessary impediments helps a person run more quickly. While the fight or flight response may save lives in an unexpected situation, all sorts of undesirable physiological reactions may occur if the body is constantly exposed to stress, and the HPA axis may become exhausted.

HPA Axis Exhaustion

Certain types of stress contribute to HPA axis exhaustion. Common stressors that may wear the body down include:

  • Insomnia
  • Aging
  • Poor nutrition
  • Emotional stress
  • Inflammation
  • Toxins
  • Infections, allergies, and chronic illness

Some patients may have a genetic predisposition to HPA imbalance.

Signs of HPA exhaustion in patients may include:

  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue and/or lack of energy
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Memory loss
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight gain

Less obvious signs of HPA exhaustion include bone mineral loss, blood sugar increases, immune suppression, and protein breakdown increases. Affected patients may find themselves unable to deal with events causing even minor stress. Women, in particular, may find themselves affected once they reach menopause, although an HPA imbalance may occur at any age.

HPA Axis Imbalance Treatment

Through a urine test, a doctor could establish an individual patient’s hormone levels. Following diagnosis, bioidentical hormone therapy—which involves using hormones that are molecularly identical to those produced by the patient’s body—could restore balance in the system.

In addition to bioidentical hormone therapy, patients are typically provided with a custom-tailored diet and exercise plan designed to prevent stress. This usually includes making dietary changes such as cutting back or eliminating caffeine and sugar consumption.

Furthermore, the doctor may recommend supplements to complement the HPA axis and reduce stress. Yoga, meditation, and other calming techniques can also aid in correcting an HPA imbalance.

Speaking with a Knowledgeable Doctor

If you are suffering from symptoms that may be HPA axis-related, call the offices of Dr. Edward Jacobson today and arrange a consultation. A knowledgeable doctor could explain the role of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and explain how it could help you. Bioidentical hormone therapy may be the right treatment for you if you suffer from HPA fatigue.