The HPA Axis Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal

Life is a continuum of constant change. The body, the vessel that houses us in the course of life’s journey, is in a constant state of adaptation and adjustment. In addition to the changes from conception, birth and childhood, puberty, to maturity, senescence and death, the body has diurnal and seasonal rhythms, as well as others with cosmic forces far beyond our present earthly cognizance. It responds to stimuli and interactions with the external environment as well as to fluctuations and changes within itself.

Reception and response to external stimuli connect us with the world around us. Internal processing of such input serves to shape and clarify who we are, how we interact with the world, and what we give back to it.

The process of maintaining constancy amidst change is called homeostasis. Homeostasis is coordinated most obviously via the neurotransmitters of the nervous system and the hormones of the endocrine axis. The endocrine axis has correspondences with the chakras of Eastern spiritual disciplines1 but modern Western medicine has simplified this to the HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) Axis. The HPA axis continually assesses what’s happening in the body, gives feedback, and calls for appropriate action, using hormones as its messenger molecules.

Hormones are the messenger molecules that coordinate and direct immediate adjustments, diurnal rhythms and the longer transitions across the stages of life: infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity, senescence and death. They work in coordination with neurotransmitters.

The key difference between hormones and neurotransmitters is that hormones are generated by specific glands.2 The hormones are conveyed through the bloodstream on protein carrier molecules to their target organs, where they are received by specific cellular receptors.

Neurotransmitters travel essentially as electrical impulses directly from neurons (nerve cells) to other neurons or to muscle cells, usually a shorter distance, moving instantaneously, much more rapidly than hormones, and without particular (or obvious) rhythms.




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