Updated: Nov 15, 2019
Do any of these statements ring true for you?
*I have to set more than 1 alarm to get up in the morning
*I have trouble falling asleep at night
*I have a lot going on in my life and find it hard to relax
*I feel irritable a lot of the time
*I do a lot of exercise but find it hard to lose weight
*I know the busier I get the more likely I am to experience problems with sleep, mood and fatigue.
That’s because our bodies are designed to have short bursts of busy-ness followed by regular periods of rest.
Have you heard about the Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis?
It’s the way that our nervous system interacts with our endocrine system to make changes to the way our body functions. Let me explain briefly what it’s all about: Think of the HPA axis like a command chain with the hypothalamus giving the orders and the affects being felt downstream, in this case in the adrenal glands. The hypothalamus is giving these orders based on what messages it is receiving from inside our body as well as coming from the environment outside. These messages are instigated by our nervous system. Our body isn’t able to differentiate where the messages come from and so thinking about how many assignments you’ve got due this week produces the same response as ‘I need to run for the bus’. The only difference is that running for the bus is a short-lived event compared to ongoing worrying and stressing. Both increase production of cortisol your body’s main stress hormone. It’s produced in your adrenal glands in response to a message which begins with the hypothalamus and relayed through the pituitary gland which releases more specific chemicals to your adrenal glands. Cortisol affects your body by increasing your heart rate, blood pressure and releasing glucose from your liver to boost your energy so you can run for that bus. When you make it and take a seat the body down regulates the stress response and goes back to its normal function. The problem is the ongoing stress associated with busy lives with little down time keeps the HPA axis working overtime and while the short-term effects of cortisol are beneficial, the long-term effects are not.
These are some of the results of long term stress:
sugar imbalances due to the body constantly releasing glucose into the blood stream in response to the stress. This can lead to insulin resistance which is a risk factor for Diabetes.
Weight gain can occur because the elevated blood sugar levels prompt the body to increase its fat storage. High cortisol also affects our body’s hunger signals which results in increased appetite for foods with high carbohydrate content.
Reduced immune function occurs as a result of ongoing cortisol production and this has an effect on our ability to deal with infections. As the source of high cortisol can also come from inflammation inside our body caused by food intolerances or exposure to toxins in our environment we also increase our risk of autoimmune disease when our immune system attacks our own tissues thinking it’s a threat.
So, how can a naturopath help me?
There’s actually a lot I can do to help you and I promise it doesn’t involve daily meditation on top of a mountain. A naturopathic consultation will build a holistic picture of you including your current symptoms, diet, lifestyle as well as taking into consideration your past medical history, family history. Taking a detailed case history helps me to identify the factors contributing to your symptoms and allows me to develop a treatment plan in conjunction with you.
The 3 factors that I focus on to support HPA axis function is:
Nervous system regulation
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