Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and HPA Axis Dysfunction

HPA axis dysfunction is not yet included as part of the diagnostic process for those who are suspected to have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, however recent research suggests that HPA axis dysfunction is a common experience among individuals who have CFS.

The HPA axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis) serves as our body’s control center for stress responses. When an individual reacts to a specific stressor, his body will release hormones such as cortisol, which is the primary stress hormone, along with aldosterone and DHEA or dehydroepiandrosterone.

These hormones are produced so they can work together to maintain elevated blood sugar levels while also helping the body retain fluid and sodium. This is to ensure that the blood pressure remains high and the person’s blood sugar levels can keep up with the high demands of the brain, heart, and other vital organs during stressful times.

These processes take place so that your body can survive during situations that warrant a true fight or flight response.

The Consequences of HPA Axis Dysfunction

These survival mechanisms evolved to allow us to overcome or escape from a predator. The problem for most of us today is that our current stresses such as being caught in the middle of a traffic jam, missing a flight, or unable to pay the bills, trigger the same hormonal responses as if we were being attacked by a killer tiger.

This means that many people’s HPA axis is constantly activated. Compounding this is that very few of our modern trigger scenarios actually result in a physical fight or flight response. This means the hormonal cocktail is released but there is no corresponding physical reaction to use up or dissipate the release and its reactions. Our ancestors would have returned to normalized levels quickly, during the resting period following the physical event.

This constant activation of a modern-day human’s HPA axis has caused the adrenals of many to become overused and exhausted. In turn, people suffer from hypoadrenalism that results in low cortisol levels, depression, and fatigue.

All these symptoms are markers of what doctors refer to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Hypoadrenalism and Addison’s Disease

When you have hypoadrenalism, it means you have depleted and worn out adrenal glands. A severe case of hypoadrenalism is called Addison’s disease, which is often described in industrialized countries as an autoimmune attack of the person’s adrenal glands.

When someone is diagnosed with Addison’s disease, his adrenals are not producing sufficient amounts of adrenal hormones. This will then lead to several health problems which may include hypotension, joint pains, muscle pains, nausea, fatigue, anorexia, salt cravings, weight loss, and fatigue.

Addison’s disease and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome share many symptoms but the most obvious common indicator to watch out for is fatigue. Another thing that’s common in these two conditions is having low levels of cortisol.

Cause or Result?

It is not yet clear whether HPA axis dysfunction is the main cause or the result of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. However, HPA axis dysfunction among individuals with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a vicious cycle and this is the reason why many experts believe that HPA axis dysfunction is involved in the development of CFS.

Since there seems to be a relevant link between the symptoms of CFS and HPA axis dysfunction, anyone diagnosed with either condition must take action to restore adrenal function. The importance of sleep and stress management techniques are just two of the many lifestyle factors that are often overlooked in the treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and recovery of an individual’s adrenal functions.

Besides getting enough quality sleep, much consideration must be given to a person’s daily diet. Stick to whole foods in order to lessen the risks of ingesting toxins. One excellent way to ensure the consumption of nutrient-dense foods is to adhere to diets such as the Paleo diet, which consists mainly of foods that contain nutrients that are crucial for the improvement of CFS symptoms.

Make sure that you also get enough dietary sources of pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, magnesium, and vitamin C.

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