Stress and Your Hormones

Does stress really affect your hormones? Absolutely! Stress in all forms can impact the normal fluctuation of hormones, including the production, transportation, sensitivity, and detoxification processes needed for optimal hormone function. When stress levels rise in the body, resources are diverted to cope with those stressors at the expense of reproduction. The stress hormones that are released tell the body that the environment is not safe and, therefore, short-term survival takes precedence over the long-term “luxury” of conception and reproduction. There are many ways to put stress on your body including mental/perceived stress, not eating enough, eating diets high in processed food, over exercising, being sedentary, infections, poor sleep, etc. Knowing how to manage and lower the stress in the body is critical when working on hormone balance. In our office we educate our patients about the various types of chronic physiologic stress.

Looking through the lens of four main categories of chronic physiological stress, let’s take a closer look at how different stressors impact hormones.

  • Circadian/Sleep Stress – So many people require caffeine to combat the sleep deprivation they are experiencing. Research has shown that 33% of Americans sleep fewer than 6 hours per night, and this is up from just 2% in 1965! Sleep is necessary for restoration and healing and when you don’t get that quality sleep your adrenals are forced to work overtime to combat the stressors of life. When you add caffeine to the equation, you tax your adrenals even further.

    • Ways to manage/reduce the stress: Prioritize sleep and limit caffeine. If you are having issues with sleep, you may consider taking a look at, How to Sleep like a Pro, in the patient handout section of our website.

  • Glycemic Dysregulation or Metabolic Stress – Many different factors come into play with this stressor. For one, a rise in insulin from consuming foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates increases testosterone production. Higher testosterone levels can have an effect on ovulation. If you don’t ovulate, your body doesn’t get the signal to produce progesterone, and the cascade of effects continues on causing disturbance to your hormone fluctuations. Another situation we’ve seen in our office is metabolic stress from patients not eating enough to support the strenuous exercise they are doing each day. Exercise is a great stress reliever and promotes blood flow which can help alleviate pain associated with periods. However, when done in excess without proper fuel from nutrient dense whole foods, it puts a lot of stress on the body. When the body doesn’t have adequate fuel, it cannot provide resources for producing optimal sex hormone balance.

    • Ways to manage/reduce the stress: Eat a diet rich in nutrient dense, whole foods. We often recommend a Paleo dietary framework or the Cardiometabolic Food Plan from the Institute for Functional Medicine to our patients to support blood sugar regulation.

  • Inflammatory Stress– Things like infections, particularly gut and periodontal infections, wreak havoc on our bodies. This stress can interfere with both production as well as detoxification of hormones. It also affects the nutrients you are able to absorb and utilize. Many of our hormones are nutrient dependent, meaning the process needs certain nutrients in order to work. For example, the thyroid depends on selenium and iodine to produce thyroid hormone.

    • Ways to manage/reduce the stress: Work with a functional medicine practitioner to test for chronic infections and develop a treatment plan for safely eliminating them.

  • Perceived Stress– Our stress response to things that may harm us, such as a bear chasing you, was designed to be a short-term response. When we become triggered in the face of danger, our sympathetic nervous system engages to support us in our fight, flight, or freeze response to keep us safe. After the threat is gone, we shift back into our rest and digest state. Unfortunately, our western lifestyles and subsequently our perceived stress levels have become chronically activated, which plays a large role in problems with hormone balance.

    • Ways to manage/reduce the stress: People are different when it comes to what works for them in this area. The goal though is to induce a down/calming state in the body. Some things that work to promote this include: physical activity, meditation, deep breathing, talk therapy, spending time with loved ones, reading a good book, etc.

      If you are looking for support with managing your stress in any of these areas, please contact our office. Dr. Riggs and Dr. Spencer are here to create a personalized plan with you that addresses your specific needs and situation.

Share this post