Medically Reviewed by Dr. George Touliatos
In today’s busy world, stress has become an inevitable part of our modern lives. When it is not managed properly, it can have a profound impact on our mental and physical health.
While the immediate effects of stress, including restlessness, fatigue and anxiety, are well-known, its long-term effects on hormonal balance and overall well-being are often ignored.
In this article, we will explore the relationship between stress hormones and testosterone and determine what you can do to maintain your hormonal balance.
Cortisol and testosterone are crucial hormones produced in both men and women.
Cortisol, also called “stress hormone,” is involved in regulating the body’s response to stress. It activates the fight or flight mode and induces certain changes in the body to enable it to handle life-threatening conditions. Some of these changes include an increase in heartbeat, blood sugar levels, and energy production. In addition, it suppresses functions like digestion that become non-essential at the time of danger.
It is produced by adrenal glands when they are stimulated by the pituitary gland (a pea-sized gland situated at the base brain). Generally, cortisol levels are high in the morning and then decline gradually throughout the day. Your body produces excess cortisol when you are stressed.
On the other hand, testosterone is a sex hormone mainly known for its role in the development of male secondary sex characteristics, such as the deepening of voice and the appearance of facial hair. It also performs many other crucial roles, including the regulation of bone density, muscle mass and fat distribution.
In men, it is mainly produced by the testes when they receive signals from the pituitary glands. Testosterone levels fluctuate throughout the day. They are high in the morning and then drop gradually. Testosterone levels naturally decline in men as they age.
While both hormones play different roles, they are interconnected to each other. A delicate balance must be maintained between them for overall well-being.
There are two kinds of stress, acute and chronic. Acute stress is a short-term problem, while chronic stress is prolonged, during which cortisol levels stay high for an extended period. Both forms of stress can suppress your testosterone levels in different ways, but testosterone reduction caused by acute stress is temporary.
Chronic stress can cause serious long-term effects on testosterone production in the following ways.
High cortisol and low testosterone levels can affect your overall health in the following ways.
High cortisol levels are known to cause muscle protein breakdown, leading to loss of muscle mass and muscle strength.
Testosterone is important for stimulating muscle protein synthesis and inhibiting muscle fibre degradation. Both effects help maintain muscle mass.
But your muscle strength reduces when you have high cortisol and low testosterone. It becomes hard to gain muscle no matter how many muscle-building exercises you try.
When you have high cortisol levels, you become anxious and irritable. Similarly, low testosterone levels make men less motivated and fatigued. Therefore, a balance in cortisol and testosterone levels is required for emotional well-being and mood regulation in men.
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone controlling various sexual functions in men, including sex drive, sperm formation, and erection. When you do not have enough testosterone to regulate all these functions, your sexual health declines, impacting your relationship with your partner and your self-confidence.
Both testosterone and cortisol regulate energy metabolism. When there is an imbalance in their levels, your body produces less energy, causing lethargy, exhaustion, and reduced motivation.
Testosterone regulates different cognitive processes, such as concentration and memory. Hence, low testosterone levels can result in memory retrieval, mental clarity, focus, and problem-solving difficulties. High cortisol levels also produce similar effects.
Testosterone controls bone mineral deposition. Its low concentration can reduce your bone density, making bones brittle and prone to osteoporosis.
Testosterone regulates body fat distribution. Its low levels cause fat accumulation, particularly in the abdominal region. High cortisol also increases appetite, resulting in more food intake and weight gain.
If your hormonal balance is disturbed due to high cortisol levels, here is what you need to do to restore it.
Studies show that chronic sleep issues like insomnia and sleep apnea lead to hormonal imbalances in men. They not only cause high cortisol levels but also reduce testosterone production. Hence, you should try to get enough sleep every day to maintain your hormone balance.
Regular exercise reduces stress and improves sleep quality, helping decrease cortisol over time. However, you should not overdo it as it can have the opposite effect. Do low-to-moderate-intensity exercises for 2 to 3 hours every week.
Become mindful, as it will allow you to be more aware of your thought process. Observe the effect of stressful thoughts on your body and try to formulate a conscious reaction to them. This way, you will feel more in control.
Deep breathing is another stress management technique used to lower stress and cortisol. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which induces relaxation and restricts cortisol production.
What you eat can influence your cortisol levels. Studies show that the regular intake of a high-added sugar diet and saturated fats significantly increases cortisol levels compared to a diet consisting of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Eat natural food items that support gut health, as a healthy gut microbiome is important for stress management.
Certain supplements like omega-3 fatty acids and ashwagandha may help achieve a healthy cortisol-testosterone balance.
In a study of 2,724 participants, researchers reported that people having high omega-3 levels had low cortisol and inflammation. Many other studies conducted on the effects of ashwagandha extract show that it can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and cortisol levels.
Consult with a doctor before taking any supplement.
If you have low T symptoms that are disrupting your social, family and work life in different ways, you should consult with a hormone specialist. They will conduct blood tests to assess your current hormone levels and suggest treatments like testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) is an FDA-approved procedure prescribed to men and women with clinically diagnosed testosterone deficiency. It can be crucial in managing low T symptoms and restoring hormone balance. It provides several benefits, including:
There are different ways to administer testosterone, such as injections, topical gels, pellets, and pills. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine which TRT form is best for you based on your health goals, lifestyle and preferences.
It is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Professionals design a customised treatment plan for each patient based on his/her individual needs and medical condition. They conduct a comprehensive evaluation to check specific symptoms and medical history before designing the treatment plan.
TRT is a safe procedure when conducted under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional. However, it has some potential risks, including acne, breast enlargement, fluid retention, and prostate enlargement, that you can avoid through proper monitoring.
Stress produces a significant impact on our health and can disrupt hormone balance, leading to serious health problems.
For men with low T, TRT is one of the most efficient solutions to increase testosterone levels and restore hormone levels. However, the treatment has some potential side effects, so it is best to approach it under the guidance of a healthcare provider.
At Balance My Hormone, we have qualified personal care managers and hormone therapy specialists who work together to evaluate a patient’s health and design a customised treatment plan. Get in touch with our experts to order a blood test today and find out the underlying cause of your health problem.
References/Bibliography/Scientific Studies/Further reading
Francis, K.T., 1981. The relationship between high and low trait psychological stress, serum testosterone, and serum cortisol. Experientia, 37, pp.1296-1297.
Brownlee, K.K., Moore, A.W. and Hackney, A.C., 2005. Relationship between circulating cortisol and testosterone: influence of physical exercise. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 4, pp.76-83.
Armario, A. and Castellanos, J.M., 1984. Effect of acute and chronic stress on testosterone secretion in male rats. Journal of endocrinological investigation, 7, pp.659-661.
This article has been researched and written based on scientific evidence and fact sheets that have then been crossed checked by our team of doctors and subject matter experts.
References, sources and studies used alongside our own in-house research have been cited below, most of which contain external clickable links to reviewed scientific paper that contain date stamped evidence.
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