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The 4 Major Stress Hormones Explained

The most important stress hormones are cortisol, glucagon and prolactin. However, it’s cortisol that has the greatest impact on the physical and mental of our mind and body.

On the other hand, states of stress also affect sexual hormones, such as estrogens, progesterone and testosterone. Keep reading to discover how these hormones affect our health.

What is stress?

Stress is a feeling of physical or emotional tension that can come from any situation or thought that causes feelings of anxiety, nervousness, or frustration.

When a person suffers from stress, not only do they experience psychological changes, but also physical alterations and changes. Stress of psychological nature can also arise in certain circumstances. In these cases, an element perceived as stressful by the person gives rise to changes in physical and organic activity.

In addition, in prolonged situations, stress-related hormones intervene. These hormones are responsible for the physical alterations our body goes through.

What happens to the hormones when there is stress?

The endocrine system is linked to stress states and responses. This system is activated when stressful situations arise and, as a consequence, accelerates the function of the adrenal glands.

This results in a chain reaction of the different hormones, with cortisol being the hormone that most alters the body’s normal activities. We’ll now mention the four stress hormones and how they can affect us.

1. Cortisol

Cortisol is the ultimate stress hormone. The body produces it in emergency situations to help us deal with problems and provide a quick and effective response. Thus, our body releases more cortisol when we’re stressed.

Under normal conditions, our body’s cells use 90% of their energy in metabolic activities such as the repair, renewal or creation of new tissues.

However, in stressful situations, our brain sends out commands to release greater amounts of cortisol. This hormone is responsible for producing more glucose in the blood to send more energy to the muscles.

However, when we’re under stress on a regular basis, cortisol levels are continuously rising. Therefore, we expend a lot of energy to release glucose into the blood which paralyzes the functions of recovery, renewal, and creation of new tissues.

The first symptoms of elevated cortisol levels are:

  • Lack of a sense of humor
  • Irritability
  • Constant fatigue
  • Headaches and muscle cramps
  • Palpitations
  • Lack of appetite
  • Digestive problems

2. Glucagon

The pancreas synthesizes the stress hormone called glucagon. Its main action is focused on the metabolism of carbohydrates.

In other words, glucagon causes the liver to release glucose when our body needs it, either because of a stressful situation or because blood glucose levels are low. This hormonal imbalance can also be dangerous in people with some types of diabetes.

3. Prolactin

The pituitary gland secretes the prolactin hormone. Prolactin is responsible for stimulating the secretion of milk from women during the period of lactation.

In this way, when the body increases the levels of prolactin, the hormone that synthesizes the feminine sex hormones is inhibited. Thus, high levels of stress can cause an alteration in a person’s sex drive, as well as in the menstrual cycle.

4. Sex hormones

Long periods of stress alter the normal function of the sex hormones known as testosterone, estrogen and progesterone.

Testosterone – The male sex hormone, is specifically responsible for the development of male sexual characteristics, as well as for the sexual response.

When there are high levels of stress, the production of testosterone decreases. This occurs as the body prioritizes the release of other hormones such as cortisol, which are more useful in the face of stress or danger. Therefore, sexual problems such as impotence, erectile dysfunction or lack of sexual desire may appear.

Estrogens – High levels of stress decrease the release of estrogen which essentially affects the sexual desire women usually experience.

Progesterone – It is produced in the ovaries and is responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle. Basically, when the production of progesterone decreases, symptoms such as extreme fatigue, weight gain, headaches, mood swings, and lack of sexual desire can occur.


Essentially, long periods of stress produce the release of hormones that can result in changes in how our body works. In conclusion, we should keep this stress under control to ensure a healthy and happy lifestyle!

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