HPA Axis Dysfunction and Symptoms

Adrenal fatigue is probably the most common phase that my clients start with when they begin work with me.  They have studied and researched what adrenals are, they understand that they are glands that sit on top of the kidneys and their importance in the stress response.  From there, what I have noticed is that they then feel the adrenals are the prime culprit of all of their distress and/or symptoms. Adrenal fatigue in my opinion is a new epidemic and it is so much more than just a pile of symptoms.  

The symptoms that come along with adrenal fatigue are many and range drastically.    Anxiety, depression, detachment from reality, headaches, stomach issues and so on.

In the beginning women start with an emotional overload while researching.  They begin searching for the symptom that is most bothersome to them. Only then, while reading, they realize that they also do have the odd bloated stomach, indigestion, rash and so on.  This leads them into an altogether different platform of research as they begin to look at candida, mthfr, lyme, chrons, SIBO and so on.

After spending countless hours on research on this platform, they may run across a random post or opinion that someone has about the adrenal glands.  After a whirlwind of emotional up and downs thinking that they finally found the root of their issues, they are amongst yet another methodology of illness…. adrenals…

One connection that I noticed in my years of teaching was that a common denominator with those suffering for a chronic period of time was that they all seemed more sensitive in general.  They all seemed to be empaths. They not only had symptoms but had an emotional connection to the symptoms as well. The trauma that occured in their lives seemed to have hit on a very deep level and healing emotionally or energetically from that trauma seemed far out of reach.  We all have trauma, but I began to wonder how and why some were able to process this trauma better than others.

Diagram of the HPA axis

Adrenal fatigue can cause many symptoms.

 

What are the Adrenal glands and HPA axis?

The adrenal glands do not work solo.  The adrenal glands themselves are the size of a walnut, triangle shape and there are 2 glands that sit on top of each kidney.  These glands make and release cortisol, estrogen and testosterone and help to regulate function of every tissue, organ and gland in the body to keep balance during stress.

One book that I recommend is ADRENAL FATIGUE by James L Wilson.  You can find it HERE

Stress = Cortisol…

Cortisol has benefits such as it acts as an anti inflammatory and anti oxidant so it is useful for allergies or autoimmune issues.  That means that cortisol is used in eating foods, converting food proteins and lipids to energy sources, distributes fat around the waist and face (along with other areas).  Normalizes blood sugar, heart function and digestive function as well. Source

Cortisol even affects blood sugar because it works with the insulin in your body to keep healthy levels of blood sugar into cells for energy.  

Makes sense right… Stress = release of cortisol = raise in blood sugar = needed energy

Related Post:  How To Improve Leaky Gut

What if cortisol is low??

Boil a pot of water and don’t add fresh water = slowly empty pot.  

Low level cortisol = low level blood sugar = hypogylcemia = sugar craving

Adrenal glands have 2 main parts that have different functions

  1. Outer (Adrenal Cortex)
  2. Inner (Adrenal Medulla)

Adrenal Cortex (Outer part) = 2 types of corticosteroids – glucicorticods (signaled by the hypothalamus/pituitary gland) and mineralcortcoids (signaled by the kidney).  Source

SO HERE WE GO!

Hypothalamus says release corticotrophin releasing hormone, then the pituitary says got it and releases adrenal corticotrophic hormones.  The adrenal than say, ok, and make corticosteroid hormones!

The 2 types of glucocorticoids:

  1. Hydrocortisone 
  2. Corticosterone.
    • Hydrocortisone (cortisol) deals with fat, protein and carb conversion into energy and helps control blood pressure and heart function.
    • Corticosterone with with hydrocortisone to aid with the immune responses and helps to reduce inflammation. Source

Remember mineralcorticoid?  The main hormone is aldosterone and this is signaled by the kidney.  Helps with salt balance and controlling blood pressure.

Yup, blood pressure is directly related to your kidney!

The medulla of the adrenal does not perform vital functions but it is really important.

The medulla is signaled by the nervous system when stressed.  Remember the neuro hormones back when we talked about the hypothalamus. Source

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

  1. Epinephrine (adrenaline)
  2. Norepinephrine (noradrenaline)
    • Epinephrine is fast and reacts to stress by increasing heart and blood rate.  It also increases blood sugar.
    • Norepinephrine can actually cause high blood pressure because it constricts blood vessels

                      A great book to read and one I highly recommend is THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE by Dr. Bessel van der Klok.  This book focus’ on brain, mind and body in the healing trauma.  You can find it HERE

So, let’s put it all together

HPA = Hypothalamus, Pituitary gland, Adrenal glands

AND WAIT…..  

This is where the Vagus Nerve comes in!

The nervous system and endocrine system connect via this HPA axis!!!!  YUP! It is all starting to pull together.  Let’s go over the three organs and what they do now.

Hypothalamus:

This guy is an almond-sized gland that links the endocrine and nervous systems. It sends messages from the brain to the pituitary gland and also to adrenals. (source)

It is responsible for many hormones, such as:

    • Oxytocin
    • Thyrotropin-releasing hormone
    • Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH)
    • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
    • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone

Pituitary Gland

The one is about the size of a pea and sits at the base of the brain near the hypothalamus. It is referred to as the “master gland” because its hormones control the thyroid, adrenals, ovaries, and testes.

It is responsible for hormones like:

    • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
    • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
    • Prolactin
    • Growth hormone

Adrenal Glands

This gland is about the size of a walnut and sits on top of each kidney.  This is a powerful gland as it controls the “fight or flight” response. Both of the glands have 2 parts:

  1. Adrenal cortex
  2. Adrenal medulla.

The adrenal cortex is basically the outside of the gland and the medulla is the inside.  

The Cortex is responsible for: Source

  • Hydrocortisone, a.k.a. cortisol
  • Corticosterone
  • Aldosterone
  • DHEA and other sex hormones

The adrenal medulla is responsible for:

  • Adrenaline, a.k.a. epinephrine
  • Noradrenaline, a.k.a. norepinephrine Source

 

Connecting the vagus nerve and HPA  — WHAT IS HPA AXIS DYSFUNCTION?

Another book that I have found helpful HEALING DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA  by Laurence Heller Ph.D and ALine LaPierre Psy.D.   This book focus is on how early trauma affects self-regulation, self image and the capacity for relationship.  You can find it HERE

“Depersonalization disorder may be associated with dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the area of the brain involved in the “fight-or-flight” response. Patients demonstrate abnormal cortisol levels and basal activity.” (Source)

The Hypothalamus, pituitary gland and the adrenals all work synergistically to regulate mood, immune support, libido, metabolism and digestion to name a few. Source