by Dr. Kristen Bovee, Peninsula Naturopathic Clinic & Hydrate IV Wellness Centre –
Our stress response is an essential component for our survival, but having too much stress is also linked to certain health conditions such as hypertension and cancer. If your New Year’s resolution is to reduce your overall stress, you may want to look at the HPA axis to help keep you healthy.
The hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is a complex neuroendocrine pathway that is our central stress response system. In a perceived stressful event, our hypothalamus releases CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone) that signals the pituitary in our brain to produce ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which is then sent to the adrenal glands to stimulate the release of cortisol. Cortisol is then released with other alarm catecholamines, epinephrine and norepinephrine, which leads to a multitude of biological responses in our bodies such as increased blood pressure and blood sugar.
A rise in cortisol causes a negative feedback loop to our brain to bring cortisol levels back down to normal once the perceived stress is gone. However, as we age or during periods of chronic stress, our brains become less sensitive to cortisol and our levels rise and stay elevated for longer periods of time. This is why it is important to support the maintenance of a healthy HPA response.
The following are some nutrients and herbal supportives that may offer a healthy, positive response of the HPA axis to maintain this important regulatory system:
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is a vitamin cofactor for about 100 enzymatic systems that help regulate neurotransmitter, hormone and energy production. It helps produce serotonin, dopamine and GABA, which are our neurotransmitters responsible for positive mood and relaxation. It is involved in hemoglobin production and is essential for a healthy immune function. It helps us metabolize our foods (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) to produce energy. Foods that are high in B6 include chickpeas, salmon, chicken and bananas.
L-Theanine is an amino acid analog of glutamine and glutamate that supports serotonin and dopamine for mood balance. It has been studied for its ability to prevent sleep disruption and for relaxing the nervous system. It has also been investigated in cognitive improvement when combined with caffeine. A review of a small set of trials concluded that theanine reduces anxiety in people under acute stress. It is naturally occurring in green tea (camellia sinensis).
Ashwaganda (withania somnifera) is a plant of the nightshade family found in parts of India. Its roots have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries and have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in adults. It can have a positive influence on the endocrine and central nervous systems, which leads to better mood and hormonal response in times of stress. In a clinical study of people using the botanical extract, participants reported increased energy, reduced fatigue, better sleep and an enhanced sense of well-being. It also showed several measurable improvements, including a reduction of cortisol levels up to 26%, a decline in fasting blood sugar levels, and improved lipid profiles.
A major determinate of a person’s wellness and vitality is the ability to maintain a healthy response to stress. By supporting the HPA axis, one can reduce overall cortisol levels in the body leading to reduced risks of chronic health conditions, improved sleep, more energy and better moods. Happy 2018!