By G. Kharchenko
Can stress cause weight gain? Well, in a 1986 Dutch study, men who experienced many life events in a short period of time one definition of stress gained weight. This study also showed the importance of identifying and treating the problem (stress) rather than the symptom (weight gain). In these men, the excessive weight had disappeared in almost all subgroups a year later. The exception was the subgroup that had tried to lose weight by dieting. The men who had dieted had gained yet more weight.
Stress is a common human experience. It is more than just being uptight or having a bad day. It is a physiological imbalance that results in biochemical damage at a cellular level. Stress occurs when the body is expending energy faster than it can be regenerated. The body’s stress axis is a system for handling emergencies. Or, at least, it should be.
This, of course, is the root of the problem in modern life. The body’s stress system was originally created to help us deal with life-threatening situations such as the threat of a saber tooth tiger, a forest fire, an earthquake, or an avalanche. This biological response was designed to be short lived, a “fight-or-flight” response.
Because the stress response burns nutrients and reserves at a no-holds-barred pace, it was never designed for long-term implementation. Moreover, because it was developed to deal with physical threats, although it might be exhausting, the fight-or-flight response was meant to release physical tension. But what happens when the threat is not physical and the response cannot lead to a physical release? What happens when we are faced not with a tiger, but with mortgage payments, birthdays, deadlines for book editors, crazy drivers, and the like? Our primitive response to stress has remained unchanged. Civilization has not.
Our individual capacities to adapt and deal with stress are different. Much stress is generated through an emotional response that is expressed-or, worse yet, repressed. Aggression, impatience, anger, anxiety, and fear are all emotions that kindle the body’s stress response. Following a fast-food diet, drinking alcohol, smoking, taking drugs, and so on further contribute to our physiological and biochemical strain. Stress only truly becomes harmful when we can no longer control our responses to it. Not surprisingly, an unhealthy stress response is often tied to emotional triggers. Both can play large roles in weight gain.
Cortisol, the Enemy
Stress, a mental term, is mirrored in the body by the release of the hormone cortisol (one of the glucocorticoids). Traditional allopathic medicine has not paid much attention to cortisol’s overall effects on the body because it is very difficult to measure accurately and the timing of release often is more important than the levels found in, say, the blood. Only quite recently has a popular market book appeared that has made the issue of stress its core analysis for why individuals gain weight in their middle years.
Glucocorticoid levels typically increase and/or become markedly deregulated as humans age. They remain chronically elevated and/or deregulated in comparison with the levels found in young adults. According to various studies, a significant increase of serum cortisol levels during evening and night is found in elderly subjects when compared to young control subjects. Similarly, the rhythm of cortisol release is significantly affected by age. Impaired glucose uptake and utilization by the lean tissues arguably the very core of insulin resistance—is one of the primary metabolic effects of cortisol. Therefore, it is not difficult to grasp the connection between elevated or deregulated cortisol levels and Syndrome X. The result is what is sometimes called “central obesity” or the “apple-shape” in which most of the weight is carried around the midsection.
Elevated cortisol not only causes weight to be deposited around the midsection, but it also leads the body to cannibalize lean muscle tissue, the very tissue that burns the most calories. Moreover, although stress can induce hunger as an aftereffect, stress-induced weight gain is not necessarily linked to overeating. This means that the nearly 50 million Americans who suffer from stress-related weight gain will not necessarily benefit from diets based on restricting calories. It also means that individuals in whom stress is the chief cause of weight gain should strongly consider avoiding diet supplements that are stimulants.
As unwelcome as this news might be, any permanent solution to stress-related weight gain must include managing the stress. This means either avoiding the causes or finding ways of channeling the effects. Meditation, yoga, and increased physical activity are all ways of dealing more successfully with stress.
Emotional eating is often related to stress. Keep in mind that stress is a subjective response. What is stressful for one person may be exhilarating to another. Emotional responses are usually tied to an individual’s past experiences, and this is one reason that “triggers” or activating situations are so important. As with stressful situations, these triggers need to be identified and either avoided or worked through.
Two items that are commonly found in the American diet can undermine one’s outlook on life. These are caffeine and alcohol. An intake of roughly 700 mg or more caffeine per day (about five cups of coffee) is often associated with depression and mood swings. Caffeine causes short-term increases in blood sugar levels that can be followed by dramatic downward fluctuations. Consuming caffeine, in other words, is yet another path to the sugar “roller coaster” of energy ups and downs. Cutting out caffeine and refined sugars for as little as one week has been shown clinically to improve mood in many individuals complaining of depression. The consumption of alcohol before bedtime can have similarly distorting effects upon mood. This is because alcohol consumption interferes with the body’s natural production of melatonin, and thereby disturbs the nature and restfulness of the night’s sleep.
The following supplements may help. The first group is intended to be calming, while the second is designed more for elevating the mood.
About G. Kharchenko
Georgiy Kharchenko with American Weight Loss Group LLC selling: Weight Loss Pills, ECA STACK, Phentramin D, lipodrene.