We all know that stress is bad but do you know how it can affect your body? Stress can affect various processes in the body like hormone production, the menstrual cycle, and fertility in women and men as well as digestion and immune function. When your body is exposed to stressful stimuli, the body makes it the first priority over many other important processes. For example, when your body is in a state of stress, the cholesterol pathway and the production of many hormones are shunted to produce more cortisol, aka the stress hormone. As a result, sex hormones such as dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA, progesterone and estrogen become neglected or imbalanced. Insulin and thyroid hormones can also be affected by increased cortisol demand.
Stress can affect the reproductive system in both males and females. Short term effects of stress are high levels of cortisol and either low or normal levels of DHEA. This is due to cortisol taking the highest priority. Long term effects of stress are both levels can be low due to the body being unable to supply adequate supplies of cortisol and DHEA that have been continually neglected. In women, neglected or imbalanced hormones can throw off the menstrual cycle. This can lead to missed cycles or in severe cases, the menstrual cycle stopping altogether. In males, long term stress can lead to lowered levels of testosterone. This dip in testosterone can lead to erectile dysfunction and lowered sperm production. Therefore, stress can make it harder to conceive.
Stressful stimuli can cause your liver to release more sugar as energy into your bloodstream. These increased glucose surges cause the body to respond by releasing insulin to handle excess circulating glucose. Over time, unresolved surges of glucose levels due to chronic stress can lead to insulin resistance and eventually diabetes type 2.
While stress will not cause someone to develop thyroid disease, it can exacerbate a pre-existing condition. Symptoms of stress and hypothyroidism can mimic one another. These symptoms can include mood fluctuations, weight gain, lack of energy and slowed metabolic rate. Therefore, it is important to get evaluated by a medical professional before starting any therapy.
So now that we know how stress affects the body, the real question is what do we do about it? Stress reduction begins with identifying stressors and then finding ways to avoid or eliminate them. Ways to address stress include getting adequate sleep at night, implementing stress reduction activities, and supplementation. Activities such as light exercise, meditation and acupuncture can be great for the body to release unwanted stress. Supplementation to address cortisol and hormone levels could include adaptogens, DHEA, thyroid support such as zinc and selenium, and/or a good B complex. Hormone deficiencies can often be corrected by treating the underlying condition, stress. However, hormone supplementation may be warranted in certain situations so discuss all options with your physician before experimenting yourself.
Being aware of personal stressors, ways to combat those stressors and supplement when necessary can be exactly what you need to be a more happier and healthier you! So listen to your body, make appropriate lifestyle changes, and discuss with a medical professional possible supplementation.