HPA axis

The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is the stress management system of the body. There are 3 main components of the axis: the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal cortex.


The HPA axis is the body’s stress management system. It is composed of 3 parts: the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal cortex. Each component releases the necessary signals to activate hormone release. The reactivity of the HPA axis can be influenced by genetics and childhood development.

The axis responds to stress by releasing hormones to ultimately produce cortisol from the adrenal glands above the kidneys. Cortisol has many different roles in the body, including the breakdown of glucose, fat, and protein to meet the body’s nutrient requirements during stress. Cortisol can also impact blood pressure and act as an anti-inflammatory. Because the human body can go in and out of stressful situations quite frequently, the HPA axis can regulate cortisol release based on the body’s situational requirements and current cortisol levels. Too much or too little cortisol can have negative effects on your health. For example, high cortisol levels are connected with the development and maintenance of alcohol dependence, and low cortisol levels can contribute to difficulties during recovery from dependence.[1]