A woman suffering from stress

Stress can Cause Weight Gain

Have you ever noticed that folks who tend to stress more also tend to weigh more? Perhaps even the person in the mirror? This is no coincidence. There is virtually nothing that can precipitate the accumulation of body fat or the onset of Diabetes more profoundly than stress! But how is that accomplished metabolically? How is it that people under stress can starve themselves and still put on pounds? Of course, we have already expounded upon the myth of calories in/calories out in previous articles on our site… so I will not belabor that point. What we need to do is take a close unflinching look at the exact biological mechanism that causes stress to put our bodies into fat storage mode. We discussed previously that carbohydrates and overeating raises insulin, our fat storage hormone, but now we will take a look at how stress affects insulin and contributes to insulin resistance, the underlying cause of Diabesity.

(Diabesity and Stress go hand in hand. See more in this article about Exercise and Diabesity.)

The “Fight or Flight” Mechanism

You may have heard of a condition called “fight or flight”. “Fight or flight” is our body’s natural biological response when we feel threatened by any person or situation, especially if that situation is life-threatening. In the Paleolithic era, that may have included included anything from being threatened by a formidable human adversary or a wild animal such as a saber-toothed tiger. We had to quickly decide between two alternative choices, run away as fast as we can or take on our opponent in combat. To maximize our chance of survival, our adrenal glands respond by instructing our liver to dump a massive amount of stored glucose (liver glycogen) into our bloodstream, so that our muscles and brain will have the “rocket fuel” that is needed to either outrun or defeat our foe. This surge of adrenaline also heightens the acuity of our senses and puts us completely “in the moment”, blotting out our sense of time. All of these are handy adaptations in a time in our history when we could never be certain that we would live to see another day.

Stress in Today’s Environment

Now here we are, in the year 2014. There are no more saber-toothed tigers or aggressive neighboring tribes wanting to steal our watering hole. Well perhaps not entirely the latter. We still have “civilized aggression” in the form of wars and occasional acts of senseless violence on a smaller scale, though the likelihood of us becoming a victim of an act of violence these days is far lower than it was thousands of years ago. What then are we so stressed about? I think you already know most of the answers to that question. Job stress, financial stress, legal stress, stress at home, stress on the roads, “cyber-stress” every time that we open our email, social and cultural stress, stress about our health and physical appearance, and the most pernicious stress of all: inadequate sleep! It is clear that we now live in a cauldron of stress, inhabiting bodies that were never designed to cope with continuous stress. Ten thousand years ago, we were not chased by wild animals 20 times a day, nor attacked by marauding savages another 20 times a day, yet 40 times a day is the average frequency of “fight or flight” stress experienced by the average American these days. Yes, indeed, we are stressed-out cavemen and cavewomen! Our adrenal glands struggle to keep up with the unrelenting stress, but alas they cannot. A Hyundai was not designed to race in the Indy 500. Yet that is exactly what many of us are demanding of our adrenals. So what is the end result of this unreasonable demand? Adrenal exhaustion.

Hormonal Balance and Diabesity

The next question worth exploring is the hormonal mechanism by which adrenal fatigue and adrenal exhaustion can exacerbate Diabesity. The bad guy behind all of this is actually not the adrenal glands. They are just doing their job to keep us alive and uneaten by that tiger. The real bad guy is cortisol, our master stress hormone, which is a good guy in small quantities, a very useful anti-inflammatory hormone, but in excess it can elevate insulin even higher and shuttle even more of the calories that we eat into our adipose tissue, making us even fatter. So we have carbohydrates in our diet elevating insulin, and cortisol elevating insulin, and insulin elevating cortisol, and our liver dumping even more glucose into our bloodstream, also elevating insulin. We are stressed, so we eat more. We eat more what? Carbs. And so we raise insulin again, which raises cortisol, which raises insulin. Now we are even hungrier! When will this vicious cycle ever end? When will the mouse get off the running wheel? When will the dog stop chasing its own tail? How do we break out of this cycle of stress?

The Diabesity Doc will give you the tools for managing your stress. Stress is not the things that happened to us, stress is our reaction to the things that happened to us. That reaction is influenced by a multitude of factors, including nutrition and sleep and mental and emotional health, and healthy communication between our hormones. We understand how to help you manage your stress through lifestyle and nourishing nutritional therapies, as well as targeted nutraceuticals that will help to heal you adrenals.