How Stress Affects Men’s Health
With the cooler weather comes the holidays, which are an exciting, yet stressful, time of the year for everyone. While most imaginings conjure a wife and mother with her hands full, this season can take its toll on the entire family, men included. Dr. Michael Werner, FACS Urologist and Specialist in Sexual Dysfunction, shares common ways that men can experience the physical symptoms of stress during the holidays.
Testosterone is what makes you feel like a man. It’s also what gives you your interest in sex. The late endocrinologist, Dr. Matthew Hardy, discovered that a little enzyme called Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase (11ßHSD-1) acts as the protector of testosterone. Your body produces most of its testosterone in the testes and this enzyme keeps cortisol, the primary stress hormone, from breaking down your testosterone. However, in times of stress, there is simply too much coristol and 1ßHSD-1 simply can’t keep up and is overwhelmed in the battle. This leads to a decrease in your testosterone production. Low testosterone means low energy, weight gain, difficulty concentrating, and last but not least, a lack of interest in sex.
Stress not only kills your interest in sex, but also your ability to have sex. One of the little known jobs of adrenaline is to keep the muscle cells lining the blood vessels of the penis under constant contraction, keeping blood out. This is how your penis remains flaccid most of the day. As stress keeps a steady drip of adrenaline going into the blood stream, it becomes nearly impossible for your body to produce enough chemicals during arousal to overcome these higher levels of adrenaline in your penis. Whether it is performance anxiety in the bedroom or the office, stress will kill your erections.
Cortisol leads to a big decrease in the body’s main sex hormone, Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH). GnRH is responsible for making key hormones that affect the quality and quantity of sperm. Lower GnRH mean lower sperm counts. But there’s a double whammy. In 2009, researchers discovered that Cortisol also creates Gonadotropin-Inhibitory Hormone (GnIH), a hormone that further inhibits GnRH. The result? High levels of stress can bring your reproductive abilities to a screeching halt.
Stress leads to overeating. We all have found ourselves elbow-deep in a bag of chips when we feel stressed. Weight gain increases risk of heart disease, stroke and even cancer. To make matters worse, stress often draws us to carbohydrates and high levels of carbohydrates create an insulin burden that can lead to diabetes. Need some motivation to keep the weight off? Heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes all cause erectile dysfunction.
Going bald was long thought to be an old wives tale when it came to stress. But recent research has proved that stress can cause your immune system to go into overdrive and start attacking unusual parts of your body. Among the conditions associated with stress is alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder in which white blood cells attack hair follicles, causing hair to fall out. So, when you start seeing your shower drain clogged with hair, before reaching for the Rogaine, think about your stress levels. The good news is that once stress is relieved, your hair will grow back.