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HPA Axis and The Stress Response

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

This is part 3 of our 4-part series of HOW chiropractic works. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read part 1 and part 2 to get caught up! Many of us go through out our daily routine without much focus or intention, but intention is a key point in healing. When you exercise or lift weights it is always important to focus on the muscles you are working at the time. With that said, knowing the intention of a chiropractic adjustment can improve your results!

Let's talk about the HPA axis. It stands for the Hypothalamus - Pituitary - Adrenal Axis. This describes the biochemical process of the stress response. It is exactly how the body adapts to stress on a physiological level. The hypothalamus and pituitary glands are located in the brain and the adrenal glands are found on top of the kidneys. In short, the system works like this. The brain senses a stressor of any kind, and the hypothalamus gland releases corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), then the pituitary gland makes adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). which prompts the adrenals to make cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

Cortisol, also called “the stress hormone” is released for several hours after

encountering the stressor. This alerts the liver to release stored sugar (glycogen) for instant energy and adrenalin which raises heart and blood pressure. The immune system, the digestive system, and the reproductive system are all suppressed so as not to waste energy on processes unnecessary for fight or flight. The body is basically in survival mode, but it can't sustain that long term and other systems suffer because of it like your digestive system and reproductive system.

So how does a chiropractic adjustment influence all of this? Well, a misalignment of a joint or subluxation in the body is both a physical and chemical stressor in the body. It is a physical stressor due to the extra strain applied on the soft tissue structures around a misaligned joint and it is a chemical stressor due to the accumulation of inflammation. So, this compounded form of stress floods the brain with negative feedback and triggers the limbic system to kickstart the sympathetic nervous system and the HPA axis!

Yikes, not good! Every time you get a spinal adjustment, misalignments along the spine are corrected and the negative feedback to the brain is replaced with positive feedback. This stops or slows the brain’s alert to initiate the stress response, reduces prolonged causes of inflammation, and promotes a state of well-being and ease within the body. Check out the two links below for more information!

From the desk of Dr. Lisette Miller Kondrad. Dr. Miller is a licensed Chiropractic Physician and Board Certified Acupuncture Provider who has been in clinical practice since 2013. She has helped hundreds of patients through chiropractic care and acupuncture. Click here to contact Clark Road Chiropractic Center with any questions or to schedule your appointment!

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