HPA Dysfunction and Food Strategy

“Excessive stress occurs when the demands made on an organism exceed that organisms reasonable capacity to fulfill them.” – Hans Seyle

Healing the body using food is not just about eating “clean” anymore.

The conversation is much deeper and demands much more attention then just eating healthy food, changing your diet or taking supplements.

As we know, times are a changing and they are changing real fast! With access to anything and everything at the touch a button we are all being forced to move faster, be better and lives as far outside self as possible, all of which and more are driving the current epidemic of chronic inflammation and disease.

Technology is evolving and radically transforming our society at a rate the human body simply cannot match.

So how do we fight back?

We strengthen our resiliency to stress.

You have heard us talk food strategy and today we want to break it all down a bit and explain in greater depth about how this is accomplished and why it is so crucial to the healing process in this day and age.

Let us explain…

By design we are equipped to combat stress.

The cascade of neuroendocrine signals influenced by a stress response is generated by the nervous system with the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal Axis (HPA) as the hub of the body’s stress mechanism. The relationship of the HPA axis is an absolute indispensable part of our existence and has a direct affect on every organ and system in the body including the thyroid, metabolism, male and female reproductive systems, the gut and the brain.

The actions of the stress response hormones, more specifically adrenaline and cortisol are to serve one purpose and one purpose only, survival.

To facilitate fight or flight the heart needs to work harder to shunt blood from the internal organs out into the extremities. The brain needs to focus on the threat, making hunger and sexual drive unimportant and stored energy supplies need to be mobilized in the form of sugar for immediate energy.

Any time there is trauma (i.e. stress) to the system, there is always a psychological and physiological component that gets embedded into the nervous system (H-P-A axis), hormonal system and tissues.

Why is this so important to understand?

Because as a society we have been taught to relate stress to nervous agitation experienced under the demands of work, family, relationships, finances or health however these sensations do not define stress or are they always perceived during stress.

Stress is not a feeling but a set of physiological responses involving multiple hormones and their effects on multiple organ systems.

Regulating stress requires an increased use of energy where most people today are severely energy deficient resulting in a real mismatch between modern diet and lifestyle and our innate stress response system.

Our misconceptions about what stress should look or feel like have left us vulnerable to the disastrous effects of stress on our health.

“There is a limited supply of adaptive energy to deal with stress. That amount declines with continuous exposure.“– Hans Seyle

Over time, the constant activation of the stress response system weakens physiological resilience and depletes metabolic reserve.

Resilience is defined as the ability for each cell, tissue and organ system to withstand the changes taking place every day and that are necessary for the body to function properly.

Metabolic reserve refers to the long-term capacity of our body to respond to these changes.

When systems are overwhelmed by confused and very harmful signals it can be thought of as a rubber band being stretched too far and unable to return to its original shape.

The loss of resilience and the depletion of metabolic reserves lead to disruption in cortisol rhythms (ie. circadian rhythm) along with changes in the production of other hormones such as thyroid, estrogen, progesterone and cortisol.

The stress system is a neurologically driven system – meaning the human body can easily adapt into dysfunctional patterns (ie. HPA Dysfunction).

Although the body is designed to handle life-threatening or immediate stresses, it is not designed (or at least prioritizes as less important) to handle chronic stress. This is because the same cells and organs needed to manage a stressful event are the same ones needed to maintain “normal” physiological function.

We have heard this discussed under the term “adrenal fatigue” however, because the effects of chronic stress exposure impact much more then just the adrenal glands, there is a desperate need to reconsider our approach in rebuilding resiliency and metabolic reserve.

Adapting the body back into homeostasis using food as your strategy

When the body becomes metabolically compromised all systems are on red alert. The body is no longer efficient at energy production and energy storage or regulation of blood sugar. Digestion and absorption have been compromised and the body is using compensated energy producing mechanisms resulting in chronic states of inflammation.

Lifestyle modification and food strategy are imperative to restoring balance of the HPA axis and the key to rebuilding your physiological resilience and metabolic reserves.

Blood sugar regulation increases the amount of energy production (CO2) and decreases excitability within the nervous system therefore reducing the overall stress on the body.

Food is a powerful tool we use daily to regulate how the cells “breathe” by positively influencing the physiology of the body.

When the body is able to store energy and produce energy, we begin to govern the energy systems in the body. Any time we are no longer producing energy (chronic stress activation) we are leaving our aerobic threshold of homeostasis and moving into other energy systems by compensation.

Dependent upon where you fall on the spectrum with respect to the effects of chronic stress on your body there is very specific attention and intention to nutrition and lifestyle habits required to successfully interrupt and adapt the body back into a place of harmony and balance.

Strategically placing the right food (dependent on current physiological state) in the proper frequency (dependent on the ability to metabolize and store glycogen) and the proper balance (regulate blood sugar) provides a portal to the autonomic communication network through which we can, by changing our physiology patterns, send specific messages to the brain using language of the body – a language the brain understands and to which it can respond.

The concept is straightforward: The body has an amazing ability to heal itself (return to homeostasis).

When harmful signals are removed and the right signals are enhanced, cells and organs are capable of self-regulating and creating optimal health.  Before anything else, nutrition and lifestyle modifications are so incredibly powerful and should always form the core foundation of any treatment plan.

To learn more about how to manipulate your physiology back into a state of balance and restore harmony using food and lifestyle modifications click here!

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