HPA-Axis Dysfunction (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal-Axis) aka “Adrenal fatigue” is a break of the communication between the brain and adrenals. At first, if you experience high amounts of stress, your adrenal glands make a lot of cortisol to help you cope with the stressors. For quite a long time the adrenal gland can keep up with the production of high levels of cortisol. But as time goes on and the stressor becomes chronic, your adrenal glands get depleted as they cannot maintain such high levels of cortisol release.
This diagram shows that there are a certain order and cause-and-effect that need to be addressed with every patient. We look upstream, not just downstream.
Why is it so important to pay attention to cortisol and adrenal function?
In a nutshell, if your adrenal gland function is not working properly, chances are your thyroid will be out of whack and your sex hormones (testosterone, progesterone, estrogen) that happen to be downstream will not be optimal. This leads to estrogen dominance/progesterone and deficiency in women and testosterone deficiency in men.
Unfortunately, solely addressing the symptoms of adrenal dysfunction downstream with adding more progesterone/testosterone will not help long-term to feel optimal.
What are the Symptoms of Adrenal Dysfunction?
Fatigue comes in many shapes and forms. Do you feel tired and cannot get up in the morning? Do you have brain fog that lasts until the first cup of coffee? Do you feel “tired but wired” at certain times of the day without any obvious reason? You may be experiencing inappropriate for the time of day spikes of cortisol or very low cortisol in the morning when it should be the highest.
Impaired Immune System
Chronic stress leads to the exhaustion of your adrenal reserves and chronic high cortisol. But when your cortisol function drops, you are not able to fight the viruses and other infections efficiently. Thus, you get susceptible to common colds and feel sick more often than before.