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The 6 stress hormones and their effects on the body

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There are several ways in which a person can respond to a stressful situation, since this constitutes a subjective and personal response that will depend on how the person perceives and experiences said situation.

However, there are a number of physiological processes and reactions common to all people. These reactions are triggered by a series of effects produced by stress-related hormones.

  • Related article: "Types of hormones and their functions in the human body"

What is stress?

When a person experiences a state of tension and anxiety for a continuous period of time you are experiencing what is known as stress. This state can cause a whole range of physical conditions as well as an annoying feeling of heaviness in the person who suffers it.

Therefore, the two main characteristics of stress states are:

  • Psychological origin of stress, by which an element perceived as stressful by the person induces a series of changes in physical and organic activity.
  • Intervention of different stress-related hormones, which are responsible for said physical alterations.
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These hormones are released from the brain to all corners of our body, causing, as discussed, a large number of physical and physiological changes.

Hormonal disturbances

The main structure related to stress states and responses is the neuroendocrine system, which is activated by the appearance of stressful events or situations, accelerating the functioning of the adrenal glands.

This activation causes a series of chain reaction in which the different hormones, being cortisol the hormone with the most weight within these reactions and which most alters the body's functioning.

However, there are various hormones involved in stress processes, which are affected by the action of cortisol.

Hormones related to stress

As mentioned above, the hormones involved in the stress response act on other hormones, modifying their action on the body.

1. Cortisol

Cortisol has established itself as the quintessential stress hormone. The reason is that the body, under stressful or emergency circumstances, produces and releases large amounts of this hormone, which serves as a trigger to respond to this situation quickly and skilled.

In normal circumstances, the energy generated by our body is aimed at executing the different metabolic tasks that maintain the balance of bodily functions. However, when a stressful event occurs, the brain generates a series of signals that travel to the adrenal glands, which begin to release large amounts of cortisol.

Once cortisol is released, this takes care of the discharge of glucose into the blood. Glucose generates a large amount of energy in the muscles, which can move more quickly and offer a much more immediate response to stimuli. When the stressor disappears, cortisol levels are restored and the body returns to normal.

This response is not at all harmful to the person, as long as it is not maintained over time. When this happens, symptoms caused by hormonal dysregulation begin to appear. These symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Humor changes
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Palpitations
  • Hypertension
  • Low appetite
  • Gastric conditions
  • Muscle pain
  • Cramps

2. Glucagon

The hormone glucagon is synthesized by the cells of the pancreas and its main focus of action focuses on carbohydrate metabolism.

The main purpose of this hormone is based on letting the liver release glucose at the times when our body does it. needs, either due to a stressful situation in order to activate the muscles or because the blood glucose levels be short.

In an emergency or stress situation, the pancreas releases large doses of glucagon into the bloodstream to charge our body with energy. This hormonal imbalance, although useful in threatening situations can be dangerous in people with some type of diabetes.

  • Related article: "Types of diabetes: risks, characteristics and treatment"

3. Prolactin

Although this hormone is known for its involvement in the secretion of milk during the period of breastfeeding, prolactin levels can be seriously affected by stressful situations that last for a long time. time, leading to hyperprolactinemia.

As its name suggests, hyperprolactinemia refers to an increase in prolactin levels in the blood. This increased presence of prolactin in the blood inhibits, through different mechanisms, the release of hypothalamic hormones responsible for the synthesis of estrogens.

As a consequence, the inhibition of female sex hormones leads to the reduction of estrogens, menstrual alterations and, even lack of ovulation.

4. Sex hormones

Under stressful circumstances, the sex hormones known as testosterone, estrogens and progesterone are disturbed in their normal functioning.

4.1. Testosterone and stress

Testosterone, a male sex hormone in its own right, is responsible for the development of male sexual characteristics, as well as sexual response.

When the person experiences high stress levels for long periods of time, testosterone production decreases, since the body prioritizes the release of other hormones such as cortisol, more useful in situations of stress or danger.

As a result of this prolonged submission to the effects of testosterone inhibition, the person may experience sexual problems such as impotence, erectile dysfunction or lack of sexual desire.

Other symptoms linked to low testosterone levels are:

  • Humor changes.
  • Constant fatigue and tiredness.
  • Trouble falling asleep and insomnia.

4.2. Estrogens

As mentioned above, high levels of stress decrease estrogen release, disrupting a woman's normal sexual functioning.

Nevertheless, the correspondence between estrogens and stress occurs bi-directionally. So the effects of stress contribute to the reduction of the level of estrogens and at the same time these exert a protective function against the effects of stress.

4.3. Progesterone

Progesterone is made in the ovaries and among its many functions is to adjust the menstrual cycle and intervene in the effects of estrogens, in order for these not to exceed their stimulation of cell growth.

When a woman is subjected to stressful situations or contexts for a long time, the production of progesterone decreases, causing a host of effects and symptoms such as extreme fatigue, weight gain, headaches, mood swings, and lack of desire sexual.

Conclusion: a nexus between psychology and physiology

The existence of stress hormones shows to what extent the endocrine system is linked to our mental states and our behavioral styles. The release of one or another type of hormone is capable of producing measurable changes both in the neurobiological dynamics of the organism and in the frequency of appearance of certain actions.

Thus, we see once again that the separation between physiological and psychological processes is an illusion, something that we use to understand the complex reality of human functioning, but that does not necessarily correspond to a frontier naturally present in the biology of our bodies.

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