The Price of Perpetual Stress—Soldiers, Veterans, and Low Testosterone
If I asked you to list medical conditions associated with soldiers in our military (active duty or veterans), low testosterone likely wouldn’t cross your mind, the assumption being that soldiers’ testosterone levels would be high.
After all, these brave people have a well-deserved masculine reputation for rigorous training, extreme fitness, and their ability to perform without sleep or food for long periods of time.
This physical and mental toughness is developed by these soldiers in order to maintain a state of constant battle-readiness, prepared to operate in life and death situations for weeks, months, and even years. Research shows this level of toughness comes with potential health risks—one being low testosterone.
The Cost of Perpetual Stress
Most people are aware that lasting invisible injuries like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are associated with the hardships of military training, repeated deployment, and combat.
But there’s more.
Under stress, your body releases hormones that trigger the fight-or-flight response. This spike in adrenaline and cortisol is good for action and survival in short, highly charged situations. However, if elevated levels of cortisol become the norm for long periods of time without the sufficient rest and recuperation that allow your body to reset, this state wreaks havoc on your hormone balance in the long term.
Military Service, Veterans, and Low Testosterone
Research has found that the extreme stress veterans’ bodies and minds undergo during training and deployment sometimes causes lasting damage to their hormone production, which leads to the debilitating long-term symptoms of low testosterone.
Normal physiologic levels of serum testosterone among young American men ranges from 10.4 to 34.7 nmol/L. However, a study of men participating in an 8-week Army Ranger training course revealed that they produced as little as 35% of the “normal” serum testosterone due to the stress and duress associated with military training.
This data has been supported by other studies on a variety of serious stressors, including extreme physical training and extended fasting.
Veterans and Low Testosterone: Long-term Health Risks
After years of operating in fight-or-flight mode due the stress in their careers, veterans may experience chronic low testosterone. Undetected and untreated, Low T increases the risk of:
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- Metabolic syndrome
- Early frailty and muscle deterioration
- Chronic fatigue
In addition to these physical health issues, low testosterone is also associated with a decayed stress response, increased anxiety, and depression that could mimic or exacerbate PTSD and other mental health conditions common among service members and veterans.
The emotional and mood-related symptoms caused by Low T are often misdiagnosed as isolated conditions wholly separate from their root hormonal cause.
A person could wind up being diagnosed with and treated for depression while the underlying physical cause–low testosterone–is left untreated and other associated health issues mysteriously worsen.
Recognizing Stressors in Your Life and Taking the Next Step
Research into low testosterone among veterans and active-duty service members applies to other occupations as well.
Individuals who are out there challenging life, pushing the limits, and taking risks often aren’t prepared for the impact of stress on their bodies. Here’s a list of stressors that break the body down, some that you’ve considered and some perhaps not:
- Prolonged anxiety
- Poor diet
- Lack of exercise
- Overtraining or extreme physical exertion
- Insufficient sleep
Similar to their military service members and veterans, people in dynamic, high-risk careers are reliant upon their physiological and psychological condition during volatile and extreme situations. They are required to make correct decisions and take precise actions to attain success with minimal collateral loss due to physical or mental shortfalls.
If the stress of your life and career has begun to wear you down, you’re feeling “burned out,” or are experiencing chronic fatigue and mild depression, consider having your hormone levels checked.
It may be the first step towards getting your A-game back. There’s no need to continue feeling less than your best if the drag on your system is caused by a treatable condition like Low T.