STRESS – WEIGHT GAIN & MORE

Stress often contributes to weight gain through emotional eating and the production of hormones associated with weight gain. Excessive weight is associated with many unwelcome and avoidable health issues.

STRESS AS A NATURAL OCCURRENCE

Our bodies are designed to handle variations from diet, exercise, stress and weight.  It regularly produces various hormones for a period of time to take care of these situations.  All this is a normal cycle for the body.

STRESS & HORMONES

The challenge is when that stressor continues for a prolonged period of time.  This causes the body to overproduce hormones thus stressing the entire system; breaking down cells, tissues, and organs.

When our body undergoes a stress, the adrenal glands produce adrenaline aka epinephrine.  This hormone stimulates the heart muscle, alters the rate of blood flow, and raises basal metabolic rate.  This is known as the fight or flight syndrome.  Epinephrine also prompts the secretion of glucagon by the pancreas, causing the release of nutrients from storage.  The steroid hormone cortisol is also produced.  It enhances protein degradation, which raises amino acid levels in the blood so that they become available for conversion of glucose.  The two other hormones induced by stress, aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone both help to maintain blood volume.[1]

Epinephrine does not stick around very long in the body however, when stress is prolonged, cortisol does.  This hormone will affect the body in detrimental many ways.  [2]Excess cortisol will:

  • Decrease metabolism by inhibiting thyroid function
  • Depletes protein in the muscles, bones, connective tissue and skin which can cause fatigue, weakness, thinning of the bones, and bruising
  • Decreases the production of androgens and growth hormones which build muscles
  • Can cause insulin resistance[3]
  • Increase fat accumulation, especially in the belly
  • Increase appetite and carbohydrate cravings
  • Will cause depression, anxiety, and mood swings
  • Is cortisol related to abdominal obesity?
    “Yes. There is a link between high cortisol levels and storage of body fat, particularly “visceral” abdominal body fat (also known as intra-abdominal fat). Visceral fat is stored deeper in the abdominal cavity and around the internal organs, whereas “regular” fat is stored below the skin (known as subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat is particularly unhealthy because it is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.”[4]

The challenge with cortisol and weight is this.  First, when you are stressed you produce more cortisol which will lead to weight gain.  When you are overweight the adrenal glands produce more cortisol so it is a viscous cycle.

ADDITIONAL AFFECTS FROM STRESS

Free radical production

THE NEGATIVE ROLE OF CERTAIN FOODS & DRINKS

Food can play an important role in both exacerbating the problem and relieving the problem.

The following list will cause the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline and cortisol.  Over the long term this will eventually exhaust the adrenals:

  • Caffeine, especially beyond one or two cups a day on a regular basis will actually act like long term stress in the body
  • Chocolate in excess as it will act as a stimulant
  • Soda will affect blood sugar levels as well increase production of stress hormones
  • Heavy alcohol consumption will cause the adrenals to overreact
  • Refined foods and sugar will affect insulin production and consequently blood sugar spikes and falls
  • Refined foods will deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals thus stressing the entire system
  • Refined salt is chemically cleaned and devoid of all minerals and will increase blood pressure
  • Can create a more acid pH in the body, which allows for disease to develop

THE ROLE OF HEALTHY FOODS

The following is a list of vitamins and minerals that will support the body during stressful times and therefore should be included in your daily meals:

  • B Complex is necessary for the production of all neurotransmitters including Seratonin, which is a calming neurotransmitter, and it is vital for the functioning of the adrenal glands. Foods high in the B vitamins include:  dark leafy green vegetables, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, most grains
  • Vitamin C is depleted with prolonged bouts of stress and is also required for normal functioning of the adrenal glands. Sources include:  fruits especially citrus and berries, tomatoes and green vegetables
  • Vitamin A is an antioxidant thus maintaining the health of the cells. Foods rich in A include:  milk, eggs, butter, and fruit
  • Vitamin E is also an antioxidant. Foods rich in E include:  nuts, germ oils and green leafy vegetables
  • Minerals, especially magnesium which relaxes muscles. Sources of magnesium include:  leafy green vegetables, beans and legumes, vegetables, seaweed, nuts (almonds, cashews and filberts especially) and seeds (especially sesame)
  • Omega 3 fatty acids have a positive effect on moods. Sources include:  salmon, tuna, sardines, flax seed oil, pumpkin oil, dark green vegetables
  • Night shade vegetables as they have an expansive effect and therefore might be beneficial for someone tense from work, stress or activity which takes great concentration.[5] Nightshade include;  all peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant

WHAT YOUR DIET SHOULD INCLUDE

  1. Salmon
  2. Eggs
  3. Lots of leafy and dark green vegetables
  4. Night shade vegetables, if you can handle them
  5. Almonds, cashews, filberts and sesame seeds
  6. Beans and legumes
  7. Citrus fruits and berries

OTHER THINGS TO LOOK AT TO REDUCE THE AFFECTS OF STRESS

EXERCISE

  • Moderate levels are best with a duration lasting less than one hour
  • Critical to maintain optimal cortisol levels and hormone balance
  • Helps handle stress by improving cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems
  • Improves insulin resistance (studies have shown that as little as 3 weeks of regular exercise can lessen insulin resistance[6])

LAUGHTER

  • Using a similar protocol, the current research found that the same anticipation of laughter also reduced the levels of three stress hormones. Cortisol (termed “the stress hormone”), epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and dopac, a dopamine catabolite (brain chemical which helps produce epinephrine), were reduced 39, 70 and 38 percent, respectively (statistically significant compared to the control group).  Chronically released high stress hormone levels can weaken the immune system. [7]

MEDITATION

  • The study, done in China, randomly assigned college undergraduate students to 40-person experimental or control groups. The experimental group received five days of meditation training using a technique called the integrative body-mind training (IBMT). The control group got five days of relaxation training. Before and after training both groups took tests involving attention and reaction to mental stress.
  • The experimental group showed greater improvement than the control in an attention test designed to measure the subjects’ abilities to resolve conflict among stimuli. Stress was induced by mental arithmetic. Both groups initially showed elevated release of the stress hormone cortisol following the math task, but after training the experimental group showed less cortisol release, indicating a greater improvement stress regulation. The experimental group also showed lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue than was the case in the control group.
  • “This study improves the prospect for examining brain mechanisms involved in the changes in attention and self-regulation that occur following meditation training,” said co-author Michael I. Posner, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon. “The study took only five days, so it was possible to randomly assign the subjects and do a thorough before-and-after analysis of the training effects.”[8]

YOGA[9]

  • Asana are the physical postures that help with muscle relaxation
  • Savasana is usually at the end of a class and it is a pose for complete relaxation
  • Pranayama breathing practice

BREATHING

  • Pranayama / Yogic techniques[10]
  • Paradoxical

IN CONCLUSION

Stress is naturally occurring in our daily lives and has positive benefits.  Long term stress however can play havoc on our system resulting in poor health and unnecessary diseases.  We all need to take a closer look at how to reduce or eliminate chronic stressors in order to have a longer healthier life.

I hope this information has given you some thoughts about changes you can make to reduce chronic stress!

 

In health,

Julie

[1] Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, 7th Edition

[2] Hormone Balance, Scott Isaacs

[3] A reduced sensitivity to insulin in muscle, adipose, and liver cells, Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, 7th Edition

[4] Tom Venuto is a certified personal trainer, natural bodybuilder and author of the #1 best selling diet e-book, “Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle

[5] Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

[6] Per Hormone Balance, by Scott Isaacs

[7] The research is entitled Cortisol and Catecholamine Stress Hormone Decrease Is Associated with the Behavior of Perceptual Anticipation of Mirthful Laughter. It was conducted by Lee Berk with Stanley A. Tan, both of the Oak Crest Health Research Institute, Loma Linda, CA; and Dottie Berk, Loma Linda University Health Care, Loma Linda.

[8] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071008193437.htm

[9] Yoga can reduce cortisol levels, a finding which was documented in the October 2004 issue of the journal, Annals of Behavioral Science.

[10] http://www.kundaliniyoga.org/pranayam.html

Stress and the Benefits of Massage

Stress is just part of living.  Some stress is good.  This type of stress is called “eustress” and results in things like motivation, feelings of excitement and improving performance.  The other, more common type of stress  is “distress” which can initially cause the same response but over time plays havoc on our bodies.  (To learn more about this type of stress read, The Effects of Stress.)

In this prolonged situation of distress, we tend to hold our bodies in a tight or contracted state.  Our breath shortens and our muscles start to ‘hold’ onto that tightness.  Often we carry our stress in certain parts of our bodies.  The more common areas are shoulders/neck, low back and the abdominal area. 

At first we don’t really pay much attention to the fact that we are tightening that area.  It is at an unconscious level.  However over time those muscles that are continually contracted start to cause us pain or discomfort.  Hopefully this wakes us up! 

The cycle looks something like this: 

  • We become stressed out about something.
  • We then hold tension unconsciously in certain muscles. 
  • Those muscles are contracting for an extended period of time. 
  • The more they contract, the more waste products they produce. 
  • Meanwhile, when they contract, they limit the amount of blood that flows to them.  This is known as vasoconstriction.
  • Since there is a lack of blood flowing to the muscle, the waste products cannot be flushed out but rather accumulate in the tissues. 
  • This causes an irritation to the nerve endings and the result is PAIN.
  • Along with pain comes more tension.
  • Then the cycle continues to move beyond the original tight muscles into the surrounding muscles.  This is the body’s way of protecting itself.
  • Those muscles start to stay contracted and the pattern starts all over again in those outlying muscles.

As you can see, this cycle can go on and on.  In addition to pain, often we end up with other symptoms like headaches, numbness, fatigue, weakness, stomach aches, or shortness of breath; just to name a few.  Over an even longer period of time, say months or years, we start to develop symptoms that lead us to believe something bigger is wrong with us.  At this point it can be incredibly difficult to reverse this process and yet not impossible by any means.

This is where therapeutic massage comes in. 

Massage that works on a level deep enough to affect the tightness (without going too deep) can be very beneficial.  It assists in bringing fresh blood to the tissues thus allowing the waste products to move out while at the same time bringing nutrients to the muscles to help them heal.  It also works on a neurological level to affect the proprioceptors. 

Proprioceptors are found throughout our entire body.  The ones located in the muscles act as messengers to the brain to tell it to either shut off the contraction or to turn it on; depending on which proprioceptors we are talking about.  Those found in the tendons, near the insertion of the muscle into the bone, are called Golgi Tendon Organs or GTO’s.  Their work is specifically to help the muscles relax by sending messages to the brain to stop the contraction within the muscle.  This is just one simple example in a very complex situation.

In addition to the physical therapeutic benefits of massage there is the emotional.  Often along with stress comes a hurried life with little to no time to stop and take care of ourselves.  The more we push to avoid the situation, the more we create the havoc.  Therefore by allowing oneself time to rest and receive nurturing touch from a professional becomes a necessity rather than a luxury. 

If you have never experienced this type of massage I encourage you to do so.  If you have and yet do not make the time in your hurried life, I also encourage you to do so.  I have been a Certified Massage Therapist for almost 20 years.  To this day I am still amazed at the change is someone’s face, how they carry themselves (shoulders no longer up to their ears, for example), and the type energy they have after receiving a deep tissue massage.  I see them breathe more deeply and take a moment to sit and relax.  Often they seem like an entirely different person than the one that arrived!  Clearly we are not talking about luxury but something very important for our overall health.

I live in Boulder, Colorado where we are fortunate enough to have a great number of skilled professionals.  If you live in an area where your resources are limited, you might consult one of the following associations to find someone in your area.  

This is a gift to give to yourself or to those whom you love!

For more questions, feel free to email me at info@julie-webster.com and I will try to answer your questions.