How Stress & High Cortisol Levels Impact Your Testosterone

The 21st century has made stress your everyday companion. From dropping off the kids at school to rushing to work and hustling all day to picking the kids up in the afternoon and focusing on extracurricular activities and household chores — life has become overwhelmingly hectic. Ever thought about how all that stress affects your testosterone levels?

Stress wears you out and makes you feel like you’re in a hamster wheel, draining your energy, and wreaking havoc on your health. In fact, stress is responsible for significantly raising your cortisol levels, which has a direct impact on your testosterone.

Your bodily functions react to the constant stressors exerted by your environment. Because stress and testosterone are strongly intertwined, it’s imperative to understand the role cortisol plays in your body.

What is Stress?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines stress as a state of worry where challenging situations can cause mental tension. While we all experience stress at some point, our responses to stress may vary. But it’s HOW we handle stress that has the strongest impact on our mental state and overall health.

Constant stress can lead to countless health issues and impair you in many ways, affecting your emotions, behavior, thoughts, and physical well-being. If you’re unable to address your stress adequately, you may be at risk for an array of health problems, including elevated blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular disorders, and diabetes.

Stress Symptoms Observed in Men

Stress is not simply external pressure that drains you mentally but rather it’s a multifaceted issue that triggers a wide range of symptoms. Common stress symptoms in men affect almost every aspect of your body and highlight the wide reach of everyday stressors.

Sleep changes are one of the most straightforward signs of stress. Individuals who experience sleep disruptions are unable to turn off their worries at night. Their minds stay active, on edge, and continue to play and replay potentially dreaded outcomes — leading to much-reduced sleep quality and profound sleep deprivation.

But you may also lack focus, become more forgetful, and experience body aches. In addition, many of us will develop digestive issues as they are very common stress symptoms in men. After all, exposure to stress can alter the brain-gut interactions, which can trigger an array of gastrointestinal issues

Some of these GI problems — just to name a few — include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Further stress symptoms observed in men vary from low libido to irritability and depression. But stress can also impact your testosterone levels!

Does Stress Lower Testosterone — and If So, How?

Increased stress is of growing concern for many men as modern societies dictate challenging schedules and hectic lifestyles. But stress can also mean a potential change in your testosterone levels, which can exacerbate much of your overall health.

What Research Says

Researchers have long investigated the correlation between stress levels and testosterone production, closely analyzing how changes in cortisol can impact the synthesis of testosterone.

A significant distinction between acute and chronic stress has been made, as temporary stress will impact you differently. However, long-term stress and the hormonal response it triggers remain the main concern for most of us.

Key findings of clinical studies found that while acute stress may lead to a preliminary increase in testosterone, chronic stress can cause a hormonal imbalance and lead to testosterone deficiency. 

A study that investigated 58 medical students before exams, found that acute stress led to an increase in salivary testosterone levels — but higher testosterone levels were not sustained and were of temporary nature. 

Acute stress can be caused by various reasons, including social evaluations, physical limitations, and competition, and has been determined to lead to inconsistent testosterone responses.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, has been found to inhibit the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis (HPG) and can thus alter the amount of testosterone you produce. A study conducted on men in the Armed Forces established that morning saliva testosterone gradually declined during the first 12 weeks of officer training school with individuals having faced prolonged periods of stress at that point.

Another study found that chronic stress was linked tightly to the amount of testosterone produced as it regulates Atp5a1 expression in the Leydig cells — with Atp5a1 marking a gene that encodes a subunit of mitochondrial ATP synthase.

This means that prolonged stress can lead to a reduction in testosterone production by affecting the very cells responsible for testosterone synthesis.

How Stress Affects Testosterone by Causing Other Health Changes

Because stress is so multifaceted, there are various ways it can indirectly affect your testosterone production as well. Stress has been found to significantly impact your sleep quality and the time you need to fall asleep — but sleep deprivation can further reduce testosterone levels.

Additionally, stress can also lead to spikes in your blood sugar levels, as your body attempts to supply potentially needed energy for you — just in case. Given its large impact on metabolic function, prolonged stress can ultimately cause insulin resistance and lead to the development of type II diabetes, a prominent risk factor of testosterone deficiency.

Keep Stress at Bay for Better Testosterone Health

There’s no doubt that stress is a growing issue in our society — with the Mental Health Foundation stating that 74% of individuals have been so stressed in the past year that it led them to feel overwhelmed or to struggle to cope. Statistics like this indicate a significant rise in omnipresent stressors and an increasing likelihood of testosterone deficiency as a result of it.

Increasing cortisol levels can impact testosterone production but may extend into many more aspects of our well-being. From sleep deprivation to the potential of developing diabetes, stress can impair your physical and mental capabilities and reduce your life quality.

To avoid a hormonal imbalance or a decline in testosterone levels due to stress, work towards embracing healthy coping mechanisms and leaving time to relax and recharge.

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