I have been telling my patients for years that chronic high stress has a direct effect on hormone levels. I was initially seeing this problem in women who began to experience more significant hormone imbalances as stress levels increased. However, more and more men are coming to see me with symptoms of hormonal imbalance, specifically, low testosterone – many of them in their late 30’s and early 40’s! The problem is that the same hormone precursors (building blocks) are used to make cortisol, the stress hormone, and the sex hormones (DHEA, testosterone and estrogen). When stress levels are high for a long period of time, the precursors that would have been going to make the sex hormones are diverted to make cortisol so the sex hormone production is reduced. To make matters worse, the chronic high level of cortisol increases belly fat. That belly fat has an enzyme that encourages the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. So, with an increase in belly fat, whatever testosterone is being made by these men is encouraged to be converted to estrogen. While some estrogen is necessary in all men, too much estrogen will counteract the effects of testosterone and create symptoms such as erectile dysfunction, gynecomastia (breast enlargement) and increased weight.
It is important for men to realize the importance of stress reduction, diet and lifestyle on their hormone levels. Men should find ways to reduce their stress such as meditation, exercise, reading, journaling or enjoying nature. Watching television and surfing the internet are not the best ways to reduce stress. Men should also make sure that they are getting adequate sleep since optimal growth hormone and testosterone levels are connected to sleep. The diet should focus on lean proteins, complex carbohydrates (especially vegetables), high fiber fruits (apples, berries, pears) and the limitation of white flour and refined carbohydrates. It is important to have small snack between meals so that you’re eating a little something every two to three hours. I call this grazing. In these times of high stress, it is important that we all support ourselves as best we can to maintain optimal health and allow us to cope with all of the challenges we are facing.
Alicia Stanton, MD
Chief Medical Officer BodyLogicMD
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