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Stress and Body Fat

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Turn on any television or radio these days and you are guaranteed to hear the latest news on war and terroris.

Turn on any television or radio these days and you are guaranteed to hear the latest news on war and terrorism. It's no wonder that stress is on everybody's mind these days but what about their bodies? More and more research confirms how detrimental chronic stress can be to our health. But what you may not realize is that chronic stress often shows itself in weight gain primarily around the midsection.

How Stress Contributes to Weight Gain

Statistics show that during wartime, the average person's waistline expands almost as much as their stress levels. More of us are glued to the television, right alongside our trustworthy companions potato chips, cakes, pies, ice cream, and whatever other food makes us feel safe and secure.

Chronic stress depletes an important chemical messenger called serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for relaying messages from one neuron (brain cell) to another. Out of over 40 known neurotransmitters, serotonin is the most important in terms of mood, appetite and sleep regulation.

The body uses amino acids from protein to manufacture neurotransmitters. Serotonin in particular uses an essential (required from our diets) amino acid called tryptophan. When we allow stress to get the best of us for whatever reason our bodies end up using the majority of tryptophan to fuel other needs, which causes a drastic decline in serotonin production.

When serotonin levels are low, we experience cravings for sweet and starchy foods. This is a form of self-medication in times of stress. Your brain realizes even if you don't that the minute these high-glycemic foods hit your system, your pancreas will start producing gobs of its storage hormone, insulin. And insulin elevation almost always means a temporary boost in your feel-good serotonin levels.

When serotonin levels are low, we invariably experience insatiable cravings for sweet and starchy foods. This is a form of self-medication in times of stress.

The Stress-Bellyfat Connection

Excess cortisol production along with insulin stimulates the activity of the most powerful fat storage enzyme in the body lipoprotein lipase (LPL). LPL is so good at fat storage that it is deemed by obesity researchers as the gatekeeper of fat storage. Under excessive stress, LPL levels are concentrated around the abdominal region, which is one of the reasons our waistlines grow so easily when we are stressed out.

The take-home message here is: learn to approach everyday life with some degree of calm and realize the power of your perception on health, happiness and your waistline.

Physically Managing Stress

Herbs: St. John's wort, skullcap, ginseng, valerian and borage juice all help the body deal more effectively with stress.

Nutrients: Supplement with a vitamin B complex, vitamin C, calcium and magnesium.

Homeopathic remedies: Try Gel-semium, Argentum nitricum, Ignatia, or Aconite.

Touch: Physical contact is a vital part of sustaining balance during stress. Consider more frequent touch with your children, your mate or your friends. Massage is another great stress reliever.

Exercise: Exercise reduces stress by invigorating the body and increasing circulation.

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