HPA Axis Dysregulation

Tired Woman

So many are suffering from HPA Axis Dysregulation…a mouthful!

HPA Axis Dysregulation or Allostatic Load is the now accepted functional medicine term which was previously coined ‘adrenal fatigue’. It simply implies that the adrenals are not functioning properly which is not correct. Allostasis means as humans we have an amazing ability to adapt to differing environments and maintain our health and well-being. But what occurs with Allostatic load is that the environment that we live in starts to exceed our ability to keep up. This is occurring at alarming rates. We are all living with major stress in our lives, overstimulation from electronics that is preventing us all from getting enough sleep, environmental toxins, overexposure to antibiotics which has detrimental effects on our microbiome, as well as our diets causing chronic inflammation.  Allostatic load can be thought of as ‘wear and tear’ of the body when you have a chronically activated stress response.

The stress response does involve the adrenals initially. The adrenal glands will pump out our stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Some may show signs of anxiety, insomnia and one often overlooked is agitation. But over time and chronic cortisol exposure can makes us crave those sweet, salty, and fatty foods, pack the weight on around the waist, have the inability to think clearly or focus, and mental health is affected which can often exacerbate anxiety or depression. It can also interfere with other hormones including insulin, sex hormones and it can suppress thyroid function.

Your body can only deal with these changes for so long until real problems start. Your brain will send a message to the adrenals telling them it has had enough and the adrenals turn down the cortisol and adrenaline production. When this occurs, you end up with lower levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Your body is now unable to deal with inflammation so you may feel more aches and pains. You will start to wake from sleep feeling unrefreshed no matter the amount of sleep you get you will still wake exhausted. You will start to crash mid-afternoon, or all day. Often everything else will get worsen including digestion, inability to handle stress, anxiety etc. So the term adrenal exhaustion is a bit confusing because it isn’t the adrenals that are exhausted….YOU are exhausted.

If you are in this state for long enough and get referred from one specialist to another with nothing resolved you will most likely go on to develop conditions including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, your periods, fertility and sex drive will all be affected. You can go into early perimenopause, or a worsening of your menopausal symptoms, Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune diseases. Your mental health and/or mood disorders will worsen as well as your motivation and ambition will come to a grinding halt.

As a Naturopathic Doctor I see many women in their 20s, to their 60s . I see women being put through hysterectomies, prescribed anti-anxiety and antidepressants, going through fertility treatments and IVF for conditions and symptoms that are all caused by allostatic load. Almost all conditions related to allostatic can be treated and reversed if we are able to get to you in time! Don’t wait!

Your energy, adrenals, and thyroid are tightly interconnected systems. It is important to not only look at one system but to look at how they are all functioning together.


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