Throughout the health and wellness field, adrenal health is a topic that is being discussed quite often. Many people today suffer from the effects of too much stress and poor lifestyle choices, leading to adrenal dysfunction. The term “adrenal fatigue” has been used in the past, although this is not the correct term. Adrenal fatigue suggests that your adrenal glands are not producing adequate cortisol due to chronic overload. This is not always the case and recent scientific literature shows us that much more is going on outside of the adrenals. The correct term to use is HPA (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal) Axis Dysfunction. So what exactly are the adrenal glands and what is the HPA Axis??
The adrenal glands are a pair of endocrine organs (meaning they secrete hormones into the bloodstream) that are located above your kidneys. The organs are an extremely important regulator of key hormones throughout the body, most notably, cortisol. Cortisol is a class of glucocorticoid hormone that acts on various metabolic systems in the body. The adrenals also produce mineralocorticoids, responsible for electrolyte and fluid balance, androgens, which are responsible for sex hormone synthesis, and catecholamines, the fight or flight hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. The regulation of these hormones is controlled by the HPA Axis. The Hypothalamus receives feedback from the body and in turn, sends signals to Pituitary by Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH) which then releases Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH) that signal the Adrenals.
As you can see, this is very tightly and intricately regulated system of control. When people are chronically stressed and follow poor lifestyle choices, this system becomes dysregulated. With HPA Axis Dysfunction, you can imagine that any disturbance to a system that controls so many hormones can have drastic effects on the whole body. Most notably, the effects of cortisol are of specific interest. Chronic stress creates an environment of habitually elevated cortisol, which is catabolic, meaning it promotes the breakdown of molecules. Eventually, this chronic elevation leads to a series of possible pathologies such as depleted or impaired cortisol response. As well as impaired sex hormone metabolism, fatigue, lethargy, depression, blood sugar dysregulation, weakness, insomnia, brain fog and a series of other symptoms.
What can I do to improve my adrenal health?
Luckily, there are a series of lifestyle changes that you can make that will greatly improve your HPA Axis and support adrenal health. Here are a few simple strategies to incorporate into your life to help support a healthy HPA Axis.
Rest and sleep are extremely important for letting our body recover and maintaining homoeostasis. If you’re feeling more stressed than usual, make time to rest and make sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep.
As we’ve discussed, stress is the major culprit to HPA Axis Dysfunction. Take time to destress by doing things like yoga, meditation, quiet sitting or things that you find fun and enjoyable.
3. Avoid Overtraining
Overtraining is a large physical stress on the body. Just like other things, too much of good thing is not good for you. If you’re feeling symptoms of stress, consider having a day off or at least switch to only doing some light mobility and flexibility work.
4. Eat Clean
Inflammation plays a big part of stress and what you eat can have large effects on creating inflammation in the body. Avoid sugar, vegetable oils and all processed foods and try to eat lots of colourful vegetables.