Here’s a great article that was recently presented by one of The Institute for Functional Medicine’s Faculty Members, Dr. Joel Evans. This article highlights the critical impact stress can have on a cascade of hormones that contribute to your overall health.
Clinical Tip: The Impact of Stress on Sex Hormones
Joel Evans, MD IFM Faculty Member
Did you know that the hormonal impact of stress may be easily explained if you understand the steroid hormone synthesis pathways?
Patients frequently come to see me complaining of hormone-deficiency symptoms, such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, decreased libido, difficulty sleeping, and increased anxiety, among others. Often, it is easy to point to nonhormonal mechanisms in which the stress response can explain the development of these symptoms. For example, stressful situations and the subsequent release of catecholamines shift physiology so that hot flashes worsen, women (and men) lose interest in sex, falling and staying asleep can become challenging, and anxiety predominates. However, did you also know that the effects of stress on the steroidogenic pathway are in addition to these effects caused by increased catecholamines?
The reason for this compound effect is that stress changes hormone production. The easiest way to understand this phenomenon is by thinking about the downstream impacts of increasing cortisol production. As the body calls for more cortisol, which is required during periods of prolonged stress, a need exists for more of the building blocks of cortisol. These building blocks (steroidogenic intermediates) are the same building blocks used to make estrogens and androgens. So, when they are needed to make cortisol, these intermediates are not available for the production of sex hormones. That means lower levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
A lower level of estrogen combined with increased
catecholamines leads to more hot flashes. When combined with increased catecholamines, a lower level of progesterone leads to poor sleep and increased anxiety. When combined with increased catecholamines, a lower level of testosterone leads to decreased interest in sex and decreased sexual performance.
So, increased stress is not just about stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and the resulting elevated heart rate and blood pressure. Increased stress impacts hormonal health through multiple points of connection in the hormone biosynthetic pathways.