Extensive research has found that gender appears to play a major role in the stress response and cortisol levels. In fact, being male or female appears to influence the stress response so much that it independently predicts one’s future risk of developing diseases and even premature death!
Stress Affects Women More Than Men
In general, women experience more stress, report more symptoms from stress, and are more sensitive to the effects of stress than men. In addition, women have higher baseline cortisol levels and more ‘natural’ cortisol pulses compared to men. As if this were not enough, the adrenal cortex of females is more sensitive to adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), the pituitary hormone which tells the adrenals to make cortisol. As a result, it takes less stress to increase cortisol levels in women.
Why is this the case? Scientists believe that the complex relationships between the stress response system and the reproductive system are one of the major reasons why the stress response is so different in women and men.
Health Effects of Stress in Women vs. Men
Because the stress response is more pronounced in women, the effects of chronic stress on female sex hormones can be particularly problematic. Some of the symptoms women typically experience include:
· Premature aging
· Irregular periods
· No periods
· Worsening PMS
· Hot flashes
· Night sweats
· Weight gain
· Low sex drive
...and MUCH more!
Chronic stress in women has been associated with higher rates of phobias, panic disorder, depression, sleep disturbances, and autoimmune diseases (such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis).