Qn: Dear doctor, how does stress/depression cause hormonal imbalance? How do I prevent or deal with it? Olivia
Stress may be defined as any situation which tends to disturb the equilibrium between a living organism and its environment.
In the modern environment, one is exposed to various stressful conditions such as stress of work pressure, examinations, psychosocial stress, and physical stresses due to trauma, surgery, and various medical disorders.
Stress can lead to changes in the blood level of many hormones including glucocorticoids, catecholamines, growth hormone and prolactin.
Some of these changes are necessary for the fight or flight response to protect oneself.
Some of these stressful responses can lead to endocrine (hormonal) disorders like Graves’ disease, gonadal (Ovaries and testes) dysfunction, psychosexual dwarfism, and obesity.
Stress causes a condition known as functional hypothalamic amenorrhea syndrome.
Studies done in primates showed that stress causes activation of the Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis with resultant production of cortisol (steroid) and progesterone hormones.
The HPA axis refers to a pathway involving production and coordination of several hormones with the resultant effect on the adrenal gland located on top of each kidney.
This gland is responsible for production of steroids and some progesterone in human beings.
In response to prolonged episodes of stress, the production of steroids (cortisol) and progesterone leads to shutting down of the Hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis which is responsible for controlling the menstrual cycle and the woman’s fertility in general. This happens because of the imbalance in hormones.
The effects of stress are reversible once the stressor is removed.
One way to manage the above condition is by identifying the stressor and then work on removing it.
Other ways to deal with stress include doing light exercises and doing things which one enjoys doing.