Many of us struggle with stress on a daily basis. We juggle work and family and lay awake at night worrying about finances, relationships, and friends. But, in addition to sleepless nights, chronic stress has now been found to hamper a person’s ability to lose weight.
In the 1990s, researchers at Yale University discovered that chronic high stress caused an increase in cortisol (the ” stress hormone”) which then triggers excessive abdominal fat deposits in both men and women. Further studies also demonstrated that stress triggers the desire to eat more, which exacerbates weight gain by increasing caloric intake. Furthermore, too much extra fat can impair the body’s ability to send a signal to the brain to shut off the stress response. The findings are important and unique because they show that it’s not simply the brain that drives the way the body responds to stress.
A new study published in January 2016 by researchers at the University of Florida has identified another chain reaction triggered by chronic stress that slows fat metabolism and makes it difficult to lose weight. They discovered that chronic stress stimulates the production of a peptide hormone called betatrophin, which inhibits an enzyme required for fat metabolism. It reduces the body’s ability to break down fat, underscoring a link between chronic stress and weight gain. This study suggests that stress regulation occurs on a much larger scale than just the brain, including body systems controlling metabolism, such as fat.
While researchers have yet to test betatrophin’s effect on fat metabolism in humans (this study was done on mice), the new findings suggest how reducing stress can be beneficial for not only weight loss, but also in preventing weight gain. While short-term mild stress can help people perform better and get through difficult situations, long-term stress can be far more detrimental.
Summary: There appears to be a triple whammy in play that causes weight gain and makes it difficult for people who are chronically stressed to lose weight:
- Stress creates the desire to eat more leading to weight gain.
- Stress triggers the release of hormones such as cortisol and betatrophin that increase abdominal fat and slow fat metabolism respectively.
- Fat cell-to-brain signaling is impaired by extra fat resulting in an inability to shut off the stress response.
Ways to Manage Your Stress
What can be done to break the chronic stress and weight-gain cycle? Obviously a healthy diet is always necessary for effective weight loss. Treating your high-stress levels should also be a priority for losing weight or maintaining. Stress management can include the following:
- Mindfulness meditation – spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace.
- Regular exercise – an exercise routine will burn calories and also lower stress hormones.
- Medications and supplements – before trying the big guns for stress relief (such as Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro, etc.) consider trying our DHEA supplement. Natural DHEA hormone production declines with age. Most people who take DHEA do so because the hormone helps them deal better with stress gives them more pizzazz and makes them feel young again. My patients on DHEA almost invariably report that they just plain feel better.
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