Is Your HPA Making You Sick?

The Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal axis (HPA) is a complex set of feedback interactions between the Hypothalamus, Pituitary gland, and Adrenals. The HPA is also known as the neuroendocrine system.

The neuroendocrine system controls reactions to stress and regulates many body processes, including digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, sexual function, and energy metabolism.

The Stress Of Life

Both emotional and physical stress can activate the HPA axis and if prolonged, can result in mood disorders, insomnia, ADHD, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, certain skin diseases, weight gain and over-training in athletes.

Hans Selye an Austrian-born physician who emigrated to Canada in 1939, described a three-stage reaction to stress he called:  The General Adaptation Syndrome:

Stage 1: alarm reaction

The first stage is the immediate reaction to a stressor, also known as the  “fight or flight” response, which prepares the body for physical activity. This initial response can suppress  the immune system, making one more susceptible to illness.

Stage 2: stage of resistance

In stage 2, the  body adapts to the stressors. Energy is conserved and the absorption of nutrients from food is maximized.

Stage 3: stage of exhaustion

If the stress has continued for some time, the body’s resistance may gradually be reduced. Generally, this means the immune system, and the body’s ability to resist disease may be eliminated. At this phase, chronic diseases can develop and one’s resistance to infections is severely compromised.

Stress- It ain’t what is use to be

Unlike the fight or flight reaction we faced as humans in caveman times, which was a survival mechanism for running to get food, or fleeing from being food, in today’s busy lifestyle, many people are in an ongoing state of flight or fight stress, coupled with inadequate sleep and a poor diet. Hence one reason  we have so many  chronic illnesses.

Stress can also be considered a factor in the obesity epidemic. When your body is under stress, glycogen is mobilized from your cells in order to fuel your fight or flight response. If this is an emotional rather than physical stress, the excess available energy is superfluous, so ends up being stored- Partially as fat.


How Can You Balance Your HPA?

  1. Try a few sessions of Acupuncture

Researchers found that acupuncture  blocks the chronic stress-induced elevations in the HPA.

Functional MRI studies of the brain show that acupuncture works by  modulating  the central  and autonomic nervous systems, neuroimmune system and through hormonal regulation.;jsessionid=D3D9CE0D2036F71B7B287EAE1E393C86.f03t02?userIsAuthenticated=false&deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=


  1.  Destress
  • Take a few deep breaths
  • Meditate
  • Go for a walk
  • Sleep in
  • Get a massage
  • Try to reframe a stressful situation, or as Monty Python says …always look on the bright side of life…
  1.  Avoid excessive exercise- Make sure to periodize your exercise (take planned breaks) and mix things up
  2. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet


  1. Identify and eliminate Food allergies/sensitivities through a supervised elimination-challenge or blood test.


  1. Detoxify your life by replacing self care products, cleaning agents and other chemicals you are exposed to with healthier alternatives.


Don’t stress the small stuff:

“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”

Winston Churchill

About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin