The Impacts of Stress on Hormones

We always hear how stress can be detrimental for almost every health outcome, but how does it affect the internal workings of the body to have such wide-spread impacts? In this article, we dive into the systemic effects that stress has on our hormonal pathways.

When we experience stress, the body reacts to prepare for action and protect ourselves from serious harm. However, this response has been honed by evolution to be intense, short-lived, and with long restful periods between stress episodes. In modern day, most of us can agree that our lives look more like the opposite: prolonger low-grade stress (perhaps with shorter, highly intense stressful periods) and the occasional restful time such as a vacation.

As the chemical messengers that tell our systems what to do, our hormones pull the strings for our entire body.

What happens to our hormones during stress?

Hormone: Cortisol

What is it: The body’s main stress hormone

Effect from stress: Goes up!

Major health implication: Weight gain

Cortisol is a huge contributor to the obesity epidemic we are witnessing. It increases fat deposition around our belly, raises blood sugar levels, increases ghrelin (our “hungry” signal), and decreases leptin (our “full” signal). These impacts of stress on appetite, satiety, and fat storage are highly significant for healthy weight maintenance.


Hormone: Catecholamines

What is it: Catecholamines (like adrenaline) trigger the fight-or-flight response

Effect from stress: Goes up!

Major health implication: Heart attacks or stroke

Much of adrenaline’s functions work to reroute blood flow to the heart and muscles to increase cardiac output. Over time, surges of adrenaline can damage your blood vessels, raise your blood pressure, and increase your risk of getting a heart attack or a stroke.


Hormone: Gonadotropins

What is does: Regulate ovarian and testicular function

Effect from stress: Goes down!

Major health implication: Reproductive disruption and fertility

Stress suppresses our gonadotropins leading to disrupted menstrual cycles in women and sub-optimal reproductive function. However, men are affected too. In males, stress-related gonadal dysfunction can lead to decreased sperm count and quality, as well as ejaculatory disorders and impotence.


Hormone: Thyroid hormones

What is does: Regulate metabolism, weight and energy

Effect from stress: Goes down!

Major health implication: Hyperthyroidism

Thyroid function is usually down-regulated during stressful conditions, including hormones T3, T4 and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). Over time, this can cause a condition known as hyperthyroidism. The most common type is Graves’ Disease, which is an autoimmune disease characterized by a swollen thyroid gland in the throat, fatigue, anxiety, hair loss and more.


Hormone: Growth hormone (GH)

What is does: Regulate metabolism, weight and energy

Effect from stress: Goes down!

Major health implication: Muscle loss or delayed growth

Although growth hormone increases during acute physical stress (like a workout), chronic mental stress can lower GH secretion. For children, this can lead to delayed growth and stunting. For adults, it might not affect your height, but it can sabotage muscle growth, sexual function and mood.

Stress is a complicated psychological and physiological response. While it is a completely healthy and normal part of life, many of us struggle with chronic stress that we brush off as “unavoidable” or something we just need to live with. The truth is, our body might be bearing the load for all the stress we put on our shoulders. Stress management needs to be integrated into our health plan, our anti-aging protocols, and our everyday life.

Contact us to learn more about our stress management services and personalized plans.


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  3. Ranabir S, Reetu K. Stress and hormones. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2011;15(1):18-22. doi:10.4103/2230-8210.77573
  4. Stewart PM. The adrenal cortex. In: Kronenberg HM, et al., editors. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier; 2008. pp. 445–503.
  5. Yaribeygi H, Panahi Y, Sahraei H, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. The impact of stress on body function: A review. EXCLI J. 2017;16:1057-1072. Published 2017 Jul 21. doi:10.17179/excli2017-480

Rachel Erwin, Nutritionist & Content Writer

Rachel is a Nutritionist with a BSc in Biology and Global Health from the University of Toronto, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Human Nutrition from the University of Ulster. She has counselled and educated clients in Hong Kong, whose health goals ranged from weight loss to detox and hormone balancing. Her love of writing led her to complete ‘Writing in the Sciences’, offered by Stanford University, and since then she has contributed several evidence-based health articles to various publications.

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