Stress and Testosterone: How Chronic-Stress Zaps your Energy
By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Tue 25 September 2018
Medical Review by Dr. Stefano Pizzo, MD
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the term stress means, but an explanation that comes rather close, goes something like this: “stress is the body’s principal method of reacting to a challenge”. To open up the term a bit more, this “reaction to challenge” can be divided into two categories.
So, short-term stress can be a good thing to have…
…Long-term stress on the other hand, why it’s so unhealthy? And how does it affect your hormonal health?
Long-Term Stress and Testosterone
There are two major reasons as to why chronic long-term stress hammers testosterone production.
Firstly, the principal stress steroid hormone; cortisol, which is released from the adrenal cortex during times of prolonged stress, has a direct testosterone suppressing effect inside the hypothalamus and testicular Leydig cells.
Secondly, the synthesis of cortisol requires cholesterol, a molecule that is also needed in the biosynthesis of testosterone. When cortisol levels skyrocket during stress, more of this essential building block goes towards creating cortisol.
Obviously those are not the only reasons that can cause messed-up T levels during prolonged stress. As a guy who battled with some serious work-related stress few years ago, I can guarantee you that increased alcohol consumption, messed up sleep quality, poor diet, lack of exercise, and depression can (and more than likely will) contribute to the stress induced reduction in testosterone.
The research on how long-term stress (both physical and mental) alters testosterone levels is rather cruel:
b) In military studies, psychological stressors (such as the fear of combat or death) have been linked to significant reductions in testosterone. Same goes for stressful military training courses, such as: the officer school, ranger school, and survival training (study, study, study, study, study, study, study). One study also showed that refugees who experience physiological stress, have low testosterone and luteinizing hormone levels, coupled with very high cortisol levels.
c) In non-military men, chronic stress, and stress-related depression has been linked to low testosterone production and elevated cortisol levels (study, study, study, study, study).
d) Surgical stress is no different (be this physical or psychological), it lowers testosterone levels too, usually the magnitude of the suppression is directly correlated with the severity of the surgery (study, study, study, study).
Bottom line: Chronic stress (be it physical or psychological) has a tendency to lower testosterone levels, and this suppressive effect is nearly always caused by elevated cortisol production.
Meditation and relaxation exercises have been very effective at lowering cortisol and increasing testosterone levels in multiple human studies (study, study, study) Just simply walking in nature (forest walking, hiking, etc), has been linked to significantly lowered cortisol levels in Japanese test subjects. Adaptogenic herbs (Rhodiola Rosea, Ashwagandha, Shilajit, etc) have a really good track-record at lowering cortisol, while simultaneously increasing testosterone. Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the secretion of cortisol during stress, and it also has the ability to relieve the damaging effects of the stress hormone. Increased duration of sleep has a significant cortisol suppressing effect in stressed subjects. However, restful sleep is not always that easy to achieve during chronic stress. Exercise is often recommended as a “stress-reliever” but it’s important to remember that high-intensity exercise can also skyrocket the already elevated cortisol levels. So stick to something light if you’re under chronic stress. Just a simple posture-hack can increase testosterone levels by 20%, while lowering cortisol by -25%, in less than two minutes. This has been proven in a human study conducted by the Harvard University. Carbohydrate consumption has been shown to significantly reduce cortisol levels (study, study, study), whereas low-carb dieters often have high serum cortisol. The take home message? Don’t eat low-carb when you’re under stress.
How can you combat this chronically high stress then? Try some of the tricks below.
Chronic stress is a real testosterone killer, and if you’re under “real stress” (as in something that truly fucking crumbles you) I don’t even have to tell you that, you can feel it yourself.
As a guy who has been under that kind of stress a few years ago, I know that it doesn’t help shit when someone just tells you to “stop thinking about it” or gives you some tips such as: “try to sleep more”, “exercise”, “drink more water”, etc…
…But just so you know, chronic stress really hammers your testosterone production, the quicker you can get rid of it, the better it is for your endocrine system. How you decide to do it, is completely up to you. And remember, this is all just advice.