Stress and Weight Gain

Jane Hammond, PA-CBy Jane Hammond, PA-C      August 7, 2020

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Stress and Weight Gain
“Stop nagging me! You forgot your lunch! We’re late! Hurry up! Oh no!! The cat has the hamster!” Stress! Stress! Stress! It can take over your life and Web MD says it not only causes weight gain but is the cause of many chronic diseases. (webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/10-fixable-stress-related-health-problems#1) WHAT IS STRESS? Our bodies have not changed much since the days of the cavemen. Here he is, walking through the forest on a beautiful day. He sees a tiger and immediately, adrenaline is pumped into his veins, his heart starts pounding, his cortisol rises and dumps sugar into his blood to prepare him to run. He runs and runs, outrunning the tiger. When he gets safely back to the cave, he laughs and tells all his buddies just how fast he ran from the tiger. The stress is over! The chemicals in his body return to normal. He is safe. He can sleep.  For modern man, the stressors are different, yet the effects on the body are the same. We experience stress everyday: freeway traffic, raising children, an angry boss, bills to pay, relationship troubles, and now this COVID-19 Quarantine. The same physical process is happening as with the caveman. Adrenaline pumps, heart races, cortisol dumps sugar into the blood…to do what? Run! But we don’t and the stress response doesn’t end. It continues, day in and day out and does some bad things to our bodies. It becomes chronic stress. The adrenal glands produce two main stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol, both necessary for survival. The problem is when we have too much of these hormones for too long. Normally, cortisol is high in the morning. It helps us deal with our day and get things done. By midnight it is low so we can sleep. When we have chronic stress, however, cortisol can be high all the time. In his book, The Stress Effect, Author R Weinstein writes, “Cortisol actually helps your body lower inflammation. But when the cortisol is too high for too long, it loses this ability. This causes inflammation to go wild. Long-term chronic inflammation damages blood vessels and brain cells. It leads to diabetes and heart disease.”  A researcher at Harvard Medical School, Mattias Neherendorf, tested this on some of his overworked medical students. He found that high cortisol actually changed the texture of the student’s white blood cells, making them sticky. These sticky cells attach themselves to blood vessel walls and creates what we call plaque. It is what clogs your arteries and leads to heart attacks. Cortisol also raises blood sugar and blood pressure, contributing to an increased risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases…and weight gain. When cortisol is elevated for a long time, as it is with chronic stress, several things happen in the body that can lead to weight gain. First, it raises our blood sugar. Registered dietitian, Dina Aronson, explained in her article in Today’s Dietitian: “When blood sugar goes up and down, it sends signals to the brain that makes us think we are hungry and crave more sugar. All that sugar gets stored as belly fat. Remember, when our bodies are stressed, we are in fight-or-flight mode, but we’re not running from tigers when we are driving on the freeway. Therefore, stress just makes us gain weight (todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml) Stress to the body is not just from too many daily activities. It can also be from not sleeping enough, eating junk food that makes your blood sugar go up and down, and inflammation from food allergies, arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases. The more we can control all of these factors, the better our health will be with less chance of developing chronic diseases, fatigue, and weight gain. HOW DO WE REDUCE STRESS? Most of us can’t quit our jobs or hire a fulltime nanny for the kids but we can change how we respond to stress. Exercise. Everyone is different and needs to find the way that makes him or her feel the best. Harvard Men’s Health Watch tells us: “Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.” Even 15 minutes of walking after a meal can help. Sleep. Christopher M. Barnes, a Professor at the University of Washington states, “those in the sleep-deprived condition experienced higher levels of stress.” A good night’s sleep of at least seven to eight hours helps the body down-regulate and balance the stress hormones. Sleep is one of the most important activities we can do to reduce stress and help the body to heal. Meditation. New research from the Shamatha Project at UC Davis talks about meditation: “Focusing on the present rather than letting the mind drift may help to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” Stress is here to stay. But it doesn’t have to make you sick. Find ways every day to reduce your stress and calm your mind. Not only will your adrenal glands thank you, so will your waistline. Next time: The Truth About Adrenal Fatigue. Jane Hammond, PA-C is hormone specialist who received her Physician Assistant degree from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and specializes in Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) She has more than 20 years of experience in internal, integrative, and functional medicine.
Jane Hammond, PA-C
      August 7, 2020

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