How Stress Affects Hormones
Hormones affect nearly every aspect of an individual’s mental, physical, sexual, reproductive and emotional health. And when hormones are “dysregulated” (out of balance) a man or woman can experience a wide variety of negative symptoms, as well as become more susceptible to a wide variety of illnesses and diseases.
Most people realize that hormone production declines during menopause in women – resulting in issues such as hot flashes and mood swings. And many also realize that hormone production declines in men as they get older – contributing to problems like low sex drive and erectile disfunction.
But surprisingly few individuals realize that physical and or emotional stress can also lead to hormone disruption – at virtually any age or stage of adulthood. In this article the hormone replacement experts at SottoPelle in the greater Phoenix area discuss the impact of daily stress on hormonal balance.
What Is Stress?
Stress is typically defined as any situation which disrupts the equilibrium or balance between a person and their environment. Everyday life is full of chronically emotionally stressful situations such as work pressures, family or relationship issues, schoolwork and exams, financial concerns, housing concerns, and much more. Additionally, physical stressors on the body can include lack of sleep, poor diet, obesity, smoking, an illness or surgery, and more.
This past year has been a period of unprecedented stress for most people due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lay-offs and job losses, social isolation, balancing work with children’s home learning, fear of contagion, and grief over lost loved ones are just some of the many stresses most of us experienced during quarantine.
How Stress Affects Hormones
In response to stress, the levels of various hormones within the body can dramatically change. This is because the human body has evolved to try and adjust to stress by secreting more (or fewer) hormones that may promote “survival” by helping the body react to the stressful situation.
A classic example of the body’s reaction to stress is reduced Insulin production. Insulin is the hormone that enables the body to metabolize (“burn”) sugar in the body. But when a person is “stressed” the body reacts to the feelings of “threat” by producing less Insulin, in order to conserve energy and store fat for future use.
But while storing fat may have been a great survival strategy for cavemen who were facing food shortages, it is counterproductive for modern humans who have an abundance of food. So, the end result of the body’s stress-induced hormone (insulin) decrease is excess, unwanted fat storage on the body.
Specific Hormones Affected by Stress
Stress Released Cortisol & Catecholamines
When a person encounters stress it often sets off an automatic alarm system in the body that was originally aimed at helping humans fight off (or escape from) predators or human enemies. So, when humans are stressed a surge of hormones is released – including Cortisol & Catecholamines. These hormones increase heart rate (to improve oxygen intake and stamina), elevate blood pressure (to increase blood flow), and increase the sugar/glucose in the bloodstream (for more energy).
These hormones also reduce intestinal motility (i.e. induce constipation) and increase sodium (salt) retention in the body!
And while all of these “defense mechanisms” may have been great for fighting saber-toothed tigers, in modern humans elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, and the other side-effects of hormone surges can lead to serious diseases.
Stress Released Growth Hormone
Production and release of the human growth hormone (GH) is often increased during acute physical stress from two to ten times normal levels. The body does this to enhance metabolic activity (energy).
But, when humans experience excessive growth hormone secretion for a long period of time it can result in dangerous conditions such as organ enlargement, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.
Stress & Thyroid Hormones
In addition to causing surges in certain hormones, stress can also slow down the production of other hormones, as a way of conserving energy.
Stress often impacts the thyroid by causing it to produce fewer thyroid hormones – and triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormone levels fall. While the intent is to slow the body’s metabolism to conserve energy, the result is often weight gain coupled with increased areas of stored body fat.
Stress Suppressed Gonadotropins
During stressful times the female body may also decrease or suppress the production of hormones called gonadotropins. And when these gonadal steroid hormones are insufficient, it can lead to disruption of the normal menstrual cycle.
Again, in ancient times when women were facing famine or predators, it was helpful for survival to temporarily interrupt fertility. But in modern society, where many women live lives full of work, household, financial or family stress, reduced gonadotropin production can lead to fertility issues in women who wish to conceive.
Stress and Hormone Imbalance
As you can see, stress can precipitate hormonal imbalances, putting women and men at risk for a wide variety of unpleasant side-effects as well as serious diseases.
And, as with any suspected hormonal imbalance, the first step is always thorough blood testing by a trained hormone specialist.
Once your hormone deficiencies or imbalances are clinically identified, a functional medicine approach that combines lifestyle modifications with stress management strategies, and hormone replacement where needed, can re-balance hormone levels and improve a patients’ quality of life.
At SottoPelle in the greater Phoenix area our hormone specialists have the experience and the foundational knowledge needed to diagnose, understand, and treat hormone imbalances that are interfering with your life. Don’t let the chronic stress of everyday life cause hormone imbalances that can lead to discomfort, unhappiness and life threatening disease! Schedule an appointment with the medical providers at SottoPelle in the Phoenix, AZ area today.
If you live outside of the greater Phoenix area, you can also find a physician in your area who is highly trained in hormone balancing using our Physician Finder HERE.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This article is provided as general information only and is not intended to be used as medical advice. While the benefits of hormone replacement are well documented through clinical research, we are not representing that hormone therapy is a “cure” for any disease. Only your treating physician can determine if hormone replacement may be a beneficial part of your healthcare regimen, based on your age, overall health, risk factors, and lifestyle.