Stress hormones affect men and women differently: Study

For the study, the scientists created a new kind of fluorescence imaging apparatus that allowed them to utilise light to see in real-time how the subject’s heart reacts to hormones and neurotransmitters.

By Sulogna Mehta  Published on  9 Feb 2023 11:30 AM GMT
Stress hormones affect men and women differently: Study

Hyderabad: Everyone undergoes stressful situations in life but do you know the impact of stress hormones on the physical and psychological aspects differ significantly in men and women? Your gender plays a key role in determining how you will respond to stress and cope with it and also its effect on your cardiac health.

According to a study published in the journal “Science Advances,” female and male hearts respond differently to the stress hormone noradrenaline. The body’s ‘fight or flight’ response is mediated by the neurotransmitter and hormone noradrenaline. The findings can be indicative of how different sexes respond to medicine and to human cardiac problems such as arrhythmias (irregular electrical impulses or beatings of the heart) and heart failure.

For the study, the scientists created a new kind of fluorescence imaging apparatus that allowed them to utilise light to see in real-time how the subject’s heart reacts to hormones and neurotransmitters. When the subjects received norepinephrine injections, the researchers saw that the female heart’s electrical activity (repolarization) varied depending on which parts of the heart returned to normal more rapidly than the male heart. Repolarization refers to how the heart resets between each heartbeat and is closely linked to some types of arrhythmias.

What the cardiologist says

Consultant senior cardiologist from Hyderabad Dr. Sunil Kapoor explains, “In women, the stress hormones cause increased heart rate, palpitations, feeling out of breath, choking, and a rise in blood pressure. In men, there occurs a spasm of the arteries of the heart followed by chest pain. Those having pre-existing borderline blockages and also get spasm are more likely to get a heart attack. Sometimes, acute cardiac arrhythmia and cardiac arrest may happen. Stress affects men’s cardiac health more acutely than female’s because they smoke and use tobacco products more than women and women are also somewhat shielded from heart attacks due to the presence of hormones like estrogen.”

He adds, “Therefore, we keep hearing about male celebs getting over-stressed and dying of heart attacks but no such cardiac deaths among women have been observed. In the modern context, where excessive stress has become a part of life and people are often experiencing heart issues, it is necessary to give cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training to the public and keep defibrillators in public places as some advanced countries have done.”

Gender difference in psychological response to stress

There are two types of stress hormones—cortisol and noradrenaline—and both impact the genders in different ways, psychologically and physically. Dr. Charan Teja Koganti, neuropsychiatrist at KIMS and associate professor at VRK Medical College, explains, “In over 80% of cases, the stress hormone cortisol triggers a ‘flight or fight’ reaction in men. So, when faced with stressful situations, men think practically and either confront them or escape from them. They look for instant solutions. On the other hand, due to the prominent presence of estrogen and progesterone hormones in women, in around 80% of the cases, women tend to think more emotionally and it elicits a ‘treat and nurture’ reaction from them. They talk, they show more resilience, try to find long-term solutions, and emotionally try to solve the issues. The bonding hormone oxytocin is released with gentle touch, kissing, cuddling, etc. It reduces cortisol production and thus can bring down stress. Even here, men tend to go for sexual activities to reduce stress while women prefer soothing touch and being held close.”

Dr. Charan Teja continues, “The second stress hormone is noradrenaline, which relates to the heart. Since the muscle structure in men and women differ, the electrical activity of depolarization or contraction and repolatization or relaxation/expansion of the heart rates are also different. Women’s heart relaxes faster while men’s heart takes longer time to relax after contraction. Therefore, men are more prone to heart attacks.”

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