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Stress and the HPA Axis

Sunday, December 5th 2021 10:00am 9 min read
Dr. Jessica Peatross dr.jess.md @drjessmd

Hospitalist & top functional MD who gets to the root cause. Stealth infection & environmental toxicity keynote speaker.

Survival mode can have a profound effect on your thyroid health through the adrenal-thyroid connection. What triggers survival mode? Chronic stress.

The impact of stress on our overall well-being cannot be overstated. We have tremendous stress all around us with the pandemic measures, economy, politics, our children’s schools, and public safety, just to name a few. Then you have personal stress in your home life as well. Add to this the environmental stressors that we face daily such as toxin exposure, and the stress can cause physical symptoms.

Stress has many effects on us. It also has a tremendous impact on our metabolism, weight, mood, and hormones by impacting our thyroid. Stress may be chronic, but you can take steps to address the damage and reverse it if it’s affecting you.

The HPA Axis: your body’s alarm system

Stress sends your brain into high alert, which activates the areas of your brain designed to protect you from threats and dangers. We may not face the same dangers as our distant ancestors, but the brain can still function as if we are facing a saber tooth tiger or wooly mammoth. Our brain mobilizes the systems that give us the energy to evade, escape, or overcome an immediate danger. In some extreme instances, it can give us superhuman strength, such as you hear about in rescue stores where someone lifts a car off of another person. It makes your heart race, makes you want to flee a threat, or make you suspicious of a stranger.

This key warning system is called the amygdala. If it perceives danger, it sends a message to the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA Axis). The hypothalamus sends a chemical alert of a threat to the pituitary gland, which then relays the message to the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol. This creates the fight, flight, or freeze reaction, and it prepares your system to deal with possible injury, infection, inflammation, shock, or hemorrhage.

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