Millions of people have their idiosyncrasies when it comes to dealing with too much stress, especially when the stress is chronic. They turn to food favorites, and do so perhaps unconsciously, to dull stress’ cutting edge.
The connection between stress and obesity (and simply non-obese overweight condition) has been known by researchers for quite some time. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all was understood.
For instance, there are critical factors related to a stress response and obesity: cortisol and an enzyme found in fat cells called HSD. The enzyme’s scientific name is 11-beta-hydroxysteroid-dehydrogenase-1, but we’ll stick with HSD.
Aside from HSD, cortisol and testosterone, we have to consider insulin.
Yes, it’s certainly complex, but the important point is the strong, scientifically understood relationship between being overweight or obese and stress.
Before getting ahead of ourselves, let’s get a handle on cortisol and HSD.
Cortisol is a hormone (and a steroid) and is secreted into your system when you experience a high enough stress threshold plus when your blood sugar is low. You’ve probably heard of cortisone.
The two are not the same; they are not different names for the same thing. Cortisone is called a metabolite of cortisol which means it’s created when cortisol is metabolized.
What does cortisol actually do that’s so important to weight (fat) production?
1. Cortisol’s many jobs are to increase your blood sugar level, support fat metabolism as well as carbohydrates and protein. It also acts to reduce the overall immune system’s response.
2. HSD, an enzyme, transforms inactive cortisol to its active state. This is where things go against a person with regard to fat. Active cortisol works as a signal in fat cells to store fat, or more fat.
But the important function here is “storage.”
And to make matters worse, when this reactivated cortisol starts this signaling within the fat cells; it seems to have a tendency to create more abdominal fat. This is the area in which fat storage signals happen most.
Now, research has confirmed that the activity of HSD occurs at higher levels in fat cells of the abdominal area.
Key Takeaway: excessive cortisol creation and activity equal more fat storage in the abdominal area as opposed to other areas.
The Many Roles of Insulin
What adult, or even young adult, does not know about insulin and diabetes? But…
Did you know insulin has other functions aside from regulating blood sugar levels?
Insulin also does the following:
1. Making fat storage possible
2. Moving sugar into (and stored in ) muscle cells and liver in the form of glycogen.
3. Supporting muscle-building due to helping amino acids create protein.
Overall, insulin is responsible for storage activity; it supports the storage of energy in various forms and places within the body.
The Counter-effects of Stress on the Body
Pay close attention because this is how too much stress, and certainly chronic stress, work against all the normal metabolic activities mentioned above.
When stress is encountered, cortisol functions to signal the body to “stop” storing energy. This overriding metabolic signal causes cells to stop responding to insulin.
This apparent overriding signal stops the storage activity and changes (switches) to the exact opposite. And what is that? You can think of it as dumping back into the “system” – your body.
Here’s what happens when this dumping activity takes place.
1. Fat cells secrete more fat into the body.
2. Liver cells produce more glucose (a simple sugar used for energy).
3. Proteins in muscle cells are broken down to their component amino acid parts and are transformed by the liver into sugar.
The Creation of Disease and Obesity
The key here is chronic conditions such as stress and the damaging result of the body ignoring insulin, as described above.
So what happens, now?
Chronic stress > ignoring insulin > insulin resistance > predisposition to diabetes; the disease state > secondary medical conditions resulting from diabetes; i.e. heart problems, circulation problems, possibly stroke.
Chronic stress > too much cortisol secretion > reduction of important hormones such as growth hormone, testosterone, and DHEA > fat creation, over weight condition or obesity.
In addition, this entire chain of events leads to fat creation/storage, reduced rate of metabolism, muscle loss and a greater appetite.
Chronic stress makes you fatter. And now you know why and how.
It’s not enough to just believe that too much stress (chronic stress) makes you fat. Would you blindly believe that assertion without knowing, or understanding, why?
The Stress Snowball Keeps Getting Bigger…
It’s Self-Perpetuating, a Runaway Freight Train
When you’re stressed out too much, your body burns less calories and you eat more. You know you should not eat more. You know you’re overweight, fat, obese, etc.
That knowledge adds to your stress levels.
It’s a brutally perpetuating chain of events.
In part 2 of this series, you’ll find out how your appetite may seem a bit confusing; a sort of yo-yo effect.
Is there a scientific reason why you’re eating more because of being so stressed out, so often – and the amount of stress seems never-ending?
Is there anything that can be done, or are you powerless to break the cycle?