HPA Axis Suppression: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis—the complex relationship between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenals—is something that few people think about, or even know about. However, chronic daily stressors as well as serious life changes can cause problems with the HPA axis and lead to symptoms such as fatigue, trouble sleeping, allergies, weakened immune function, and food cravings, to name a few. Learning the facts behind HPA axis suppression (known as adrenal fatigue before the dysfunction was fully understood) can help in managing symptoms and restoring balance in the body.
What Is HPA Axis Suppression?
The HPA axis can be understood as the body’s “stress system.” It controls the body’s level of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) and other important stress-related hormones. The HPA axis can also be thought of as the body’s energy regulator, because it is also responsible for controlling virtually all of the hormones, nervous system activity, and energy expenditure in the human body, as well as modulating the immune system. When the HPA axis becomes suppressed, the body is not able to properly regulate stress and energy levels, which can manifest in symptoms such as fatigue, suppressed immune system, depression, and anxiety.
For many people, fatigue can creep up with a collection of non-specific symptoms, but can be classified as a general state of “feeling unwell.” While most cases are mild and can resolve on their own, if left untreated, symptoms of HPA axis issues can become debilitating. Combined with the body’s innate ability to heal itself, treating HPA axis suppression begins with identifying the underlying problem and developing a customized plan for treatment.
HPA Axis Suppression Symptoms in Men and Women.
For men, when the HPA axis becomes suppressed, the symptoms that tend to arise include difficulty sleeping, midday fatigue, anxiety, weakened immunity, depression, aching joints, diminished sex drive, the tendency to feel cold, and loss of muscle mass and strength. Signs of HPA axis suppression in women are similar to symptoms in men, including depression, anxiety, sensitivity to cold, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and unexplained allergies. Post-menopause stress and HPA axis issues are often interrelated, though HPA axis suppression can affect a woman at any age.
What Causes HPA Axis Suppression?
Experts agree that high levels of stress are the leading cause of HPA axis suppression. When the body endures stress, the adrenal glands are signaled to produce cortisol, and with excessive stress, excessive amounts of cortisol may be produced. Initially, this causes high cortisol symptoms such as depression, fatigue, and weight gain. But when stress becomes overwhelming or prolonged, the brain slows the signal to the adrenals to produce cortisol and other stress hormones, suppressing the whole HPA axis and resulting in lowered cortisol levels. The flux and shock to the body of drastically low cortisol levels and even cortisol deficiency can lead to multiple hormonal imbalances and symptoms such as dizziness, muscle weakness, and dark rings under the eyes.
The Right Testing for HPA Axis Issues.
When symptoms start flaring up and brain and adrenal cortex hormones are out of balance, one of the best ways to get the right balance back is to test hormone levels with a urine test. Urine testing is one of the best methods of accurately measuring hormone levels. The expert physicians at the BodyLogicMD network are highly trained in the proper interpretation of this non-invasive testing method. They check cortisol levels at five different points throughout the day to determine fluctuations and develop a plan for HPA axis health accordingly.
The Right Treatment for HPA Axis Issues.
Provided with a proper evaluation of cortisol throughout the day, hormone experts are able to know just how to treat HPA axis suppression. Rather than simply focusing on masking symptoms, the BodyLogicMD physicians utilize customized treatments for HPA axis issues that will help prevent the issue from recurring and promote lasting health. Supplements like Adapto Pure and Pure Calm may aid the body’s stress response and improve HPA axis function. These and other supplements may work to support healthy cortisol levels, enhance energy, and help restore healthy HPA axis function.
Lifestyle Modifications to Support the HPA Axis.
Treating HPA axis suppression usually requires ongoing support and making targeted lifestyle changes. While it is not realistic to cut out stress completely, exercise and diet can play major roles in avoiding HPA axis suppression and controlling the stress that can lead to compromised HPA axis health. The HPA axis is delicate, and aggressive, intense exercise can cause HPA axis issues when not implemented gradually. A balanced diet full of fresh, whole foods is also important to HPA axis recovery and balance. Further, engaging in stress-reducing techniques like meditation and yoga can also keep cortisol levels in check.
Whether dealing with symptoms of low cortisol or high cortisol, consulting a hormone expert can help resolve any HPA axis issues. Physicians within the BodyLogicMD network specialize in treating such issues and can help you restore and maintain your ongoing health. Make an appointment today and learn the best methods to support HPA axis function and achieve overall health and wellness.