The endocrine system is related to stress states and responses. It is activated when stressful situations appear and hormones produce alterations in the functioning of the body.

The  most important stress hormones are cortisol, glucagon, and prolactin. However, it is cortisol that has the greatest impact on modifying physical and mental functioning.

On the other hand, sex hormones are also modified during stress states, such as estrogens, progesterone and testosterone.

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 undergoes stress, they not only experience psychological changes, but also suffer physical alterations and changes. There is a  stress of psychological origin, by which an element perceived as stressful by the person gives rise to changes in physical and organic activity.

In addition, in prolonged situations, hormones related to stress intervene. These hormones are responsible for these physical alterations.

What happens to hormones when there is stress?

The endocrine system is the one that is related to stress states and responses. This system is activated when stressful situations appear and, as a consequence, accelerates the functioning of the adrenal glands.

This results in a chain reaction of the different hormones, with cortisol being the hormone that most alters the functioning of the body . Next, we talk about the four stress hormones.

1. Cortisol.

Cortisol is the stress hormone par excellence. The agency manufactures it in emergency situations to help us face problems and provide a quick and effective response. In this way, when we are stressed, the release of cortisol increases.

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

However, in stressful situations, our brain sends orders for greater amounts of cortisol to be released. This hormone is responsible for more glucose in the blood to send more energy to the muscles.

However, when we are under stress on a regular basis, cortisol levels skyrocket continuously, so we spend a lot of energy to release glucose into the blood, and the functions of recovery, renewal and creation of new tissues are paralyzed.

The first symptoms of having elevated cortisol levels are:

  • Lack of sense of humor.
  • Irritability.
  • Permanent tiredness.
  • Headaches and muscle cramps.
  • Palpitations.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Digestive problems.

2. Glucagon.

The hormone glucagon is synthesized in the  pancreas. Its main action is focused on the metabolism of carbohydrates.

Glucagon causes the liver to release glucose when our body needs it, either due to a stress situation or because blood glucose levels are low. This hormonal imbalance can be dangerous in people with some type of diabetes.

3. Prolactin.

Prolactin is a hormone secreted by the pituitary. It is responsible for stimulating the secretion of milk in women during the lactation period.

Thus, by increasing prolactin levels, the hormone that synthesizes female sex hormones is inhibited. Thus, high levels of stress can cause alterations in sexual desire, as well as the menstrual cycle.

4. Sex hormones.

When there are long periods of stress, the sex hormones, testosterone, estrogens and progesterone, are altered their normal functioning.

4.1. Testosterone.

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

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

4.2. Estrogens.

High levels of stress decrease the release of estrogens, disturbing the normal sexual functioning of women.

4.3. Progesterone.

Progesterone is produced in the ovaries and is responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle. When progesterone production decreases, symptoms such as extreme fatigue, weight gain, headaches, mood swings, and lack of sexual desire may appear.


Long periods of stress produce the release of hormones that are capable of producing changes in the functioning of the body.