Women suffer less stress than men thanks to their hormones, according to study

Women seem to be less susceptible than men to stress and serious stress-related illnesses because of the protective properties of the sex hormone oestrogen, according to a recent study of nurses by the University of Greenwich.

The study indicates that oestrogen reduces the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which, when secreted during long periods of stress, can cause major illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis.

The urine of 315 male and female nurses, between 20 and 60 years old, was analysed to determine levels of stress hormones. “They were significantly greater in younger male nurses than in females,” according to Dr Harry Chummun, one of the report’s authors.

At the higher age range in this study, the difference in stress hormone levels between males and females was smaller than in the younger group. “This seems to be because of the lower oestrogen levels in older women who have been through the menopause,” said Dr Chummun. “However, stress hormone levels in older women receiving Hormone Replacement Therapy (which contains oestrogen) are lower than men of the same age, which reinforces our belief that oestrogen is responsible for lowering stress hormone levels in women.”

“The implication of these findings is that men and postmenopausal women may be more susceptible to stress related illnesses than younger women,” said Dr Chummun. “But further research is needed to discover why oestrogen protects women against stress.”

The report is particularly relevant as it is Stress Management Week, an initiative organised by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work to highlight stress in the workplace (www.osha.eu.int/ew2002). Nearly one in three of Europe`s workers (more than 40 million people) report that they are affected by stress at work, which is responsible for millions of lost working days every year.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. Its authors were Dr Rashid Deane and Professor D. Prashad of the University of Greenwich’s School of Chemical and Life Sciences, and Dr Harry Chummun of the School of Health.

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