One of the biggest problems that I see with mainstream medicine today is the lack of understanding of how the body works as a WHOLE. More often than not, a patient presents a symptom to a doctor – let’s say a rash on the back of the arms. The doctor may look at the rash and offer the patient a cream or antihistamine to “cure” it. Or, they may refer the patient to a dermatologist so that they can tackle the complaint.
There are 3 major issues that I have with this:
Mainstream medicine often:
1. Does not look at the underlying reasons why there is a problem. They use Band-Aids (medications) for problems instead of asking why it happened in the first place.
2. Does not have the time to talk to their patients about prevention, risks, or alternative treatments. You get your pill and then you’re off on your way only to come back again once the problem reappears, and it will reappear.
3. Does not have a clue about how much nutrition can help naturally alleviate problems, prevent issues, and improve treatment.
In the case of the rash, time and time again I see skin problems resolve themselves with simple changes to the diet. This could include the removal of dairy, gluten, and/or sugar from the diet. In some cases it resolves itself quite quickly. It’s not the rash that is the problem. In fact, the rash is a helpful red flag telling you that something is not right inside your body. The body is being presented with an irritant (often times food) and your skin is begging for you to stop giving it something it doesn’t want.
By covering up the problem with medication, you are allowing yourself to continue to irritate your body. Sure – you may appear to be “healed” from the outside (your rash is gone), but what is still going on within?
So what does this have to do with that HPA thing?
The HPA axis stands for the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Woah! Big word, I know, but it is one of my favorite topics AND one of the most important concepts for you to understand. It’s kind of a big deal…and not just for women’s health.
There is a circuitry that flows through the body starting in the brain and running throughout the body. The hormones in our body are constantly talking to each other about what’s going on. “Am I well nourished? Am I stressed? Am I well rested? Am I flooded with toxins?” The body WANTS to heal, so it will do whatever it can to try to bring stability when the environment seems unstable. Sometimes this up or down-regulation of hormones comes at the expense of others.
The HPA axis is concerned with the hypothalamus and pituitary (in the brain) and its signaling down to the adrenals. While we talk about these 3 players in the HPA axis, we are actually influencing countless hormones downstream. Some refer to it as the HTPA because of its effects on the thyroid, others talk about the HPO/HPG (ovarian/gonadal) axis because of its effects on the reproductive glands. See what I mean? If your brain ain’t happy, your body ain’t happy.
Because of this, the HPA axis is important for a huge range of different functions including:
- Stress response
- Reproductive health
- Immune system
- Energy levels
Takeaway: All you need to know is that when this system gets out of whack, unfortunately all hormones are fair game for trouble.
Do you see why it’s kind of a big deal??
I commonly hear people point at their health problems saying that their adrenals are shot or they have too much/too little cortisol. While that could be a fair statement, I think it is worth emphasizing that it’s not JUST about their adrenals. The entire system is now off balance. This type of thinking becomes all too similar to the mainstream medicine model. Taking adrenal support supplements and planning on meditating/relaxing more may not be enough. We’re looking at whole body health, not just focusing on improving one system of the body.
One of the biggest takeaways that I want to introduce you to with the HPA axis is that when it becomes dysregulated, we can no longer function optimally. Period. For women, our first manifestation of HPA axis problems may come from dealing with infertility, irregular cycles, extreme mood swings, or intense menopausal symptoms.
If you are a woman having issues with insufficient hormone product, this axis should be one of your top considerations when trying to point a finger at the cause.
The problem is that mainstream conventional doctors are not well versed in this potential underlying issue, so it’s up to you and integrative/holistic health care practitioners to really sort this out! Going on hormone replacement therapies such as bioidentical hormones and birth control pills does not have to be your fate.
Since this is such an important concept to understand, this post will be broken into segments. The next few segments will address:
- Why the HPA axis gets out of whack
- What lifestyle factors can help you work towards getting that balance back!