We all go through periods of time in our lifetime when the demands and strains are greater and the stress load is heavier; for most of us, stress is a fact of life. For some people, the effects surpass feelings of discomfort and anxiety. For these people, stress can mean facing each day ravenously hungry – as well as adding weight gain to their list of worries. The problem, research says, lies within our neuro-endocrine system; a brain-to-body connection that traces back to evolutionary times and which kept our distant ancestors alive. Among the several ways in which stress can contribute to weight gain, the main has to do with cortisol, a stress hormone. Anytime we’re stressed, the hormones released include adrenalin — this gives us instantaneous energy — along with cortisol and corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH). Cortisol is also known as to as the “stress hormone” for the reason that excess cortisol is secreted in times of psychological or physical stress.
Here’s what happens: Our bodies respond to stress, physical or psychological in exactly the same way. Accordingly, every time you are under stress, the brain instructs our cells to release potent hormones. You get a burst of adrenaline, causing an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, cardiac output and carbohydrate metabolism, tapping stored energy so you can fight or flee. On the passing of this stressful event, your adrenaline levels drop off relatively quickly. At the same time, your hormones also release a surge of cortisol which in turn instructs the body to replenish that energy, although you haven’t used up very many calories. As long as the stress continues, your body continues to pump out that cortisol. Cortisol remains elevated for longer to refuel your body and bring it back to balance. One of the ensuing effects of the ‘leftover’ cortisol is stimulating appetite. This leaves you ravenous, an attempt to induce food consumption to replace the fat and carbs used up during the “Stressful events”.
“Instead, we crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension,” explains Elissa Epel, PhD, a researcher on stress eating at the University of California, San Francisco. This soothing effect is addictive, every time you’re anxious, you crave for fattening foods.
If stress you’ve just dealt with is sudden and short-lived, this process works just fine. The real problem arises when people are constantly stressed, day in and day out. With chronic stress, cortisol levels go up and remain up. Your body constantly tells you to refuel because of the cortisol; this in turn causes you to ‘stress-eat’ on a regular basis.
Chronically elevated cortisol levels may also lead to an assortment of other problems like;
- Depressed immune function
- Problems with blood sugar control
- Low thyroid function
- Eventually adrenal burnout
- Chronic illness (like type II diabetes, repeated infections, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure and hypothyroidism)
Obviously, getting rid of all anxiety isn’t an option. However, by taking these certain nutrients that can naturally help you combat stress; you can get your cortisol levels and your weight under control—consequently improving your health.
Nutrients most likely to be depleted from chronic stress are the B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium.
- Zinc – Found in oysters, meats and poultry, beans, nuts and whole grains. Zinc is a part of numerous different bodily enzymatic reactions. A deficiency of it can lead to poor memory and impaired intellectual ability, irritability, chronic anger, loss of taste and smell as well as reduced ability to handle stress.
- Copper – Copper, which helps stimulate the growth of red blood cells and is part of several digestive enzymes; is excellently sourced from oysters, cashews, hazelnuts, clams, crab, lentils, beans, almonds, peanut butter, and whole grains. Low copper levels leads to breathing problems, digestive problems and physical weakness.
- Vitamin B6 – B6 is involved in numerous different enzyme reactions in the body, one of which is converting the amino acid tryptophan to your body’s natural antidepressant, serotonin. Deficiency can cause irritability, confusion, depression, weakened immune function, mouth sores, and intellectual decline. Dietary sources of B6 include bananas, chicken, salmon, turkey, potatoes, and spinach.
- Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) – These are essential because they are involved in the functioning of the brain. Deficiencies are linked to decreased memory and mental abilities, poor vision, lowered immune function, nerve tingling, increased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. Sources of Omega-3’s are walnuts, salmon, avocados, Brazil nuts, tuna, dark leafy greens and sesame seeds.
Each of these stress-fighting nutrients are absorbed to the bloodstream and lymph system during digestion and eventually carried to your organs and tissues. As a result, people experiencing chronic stress are prone to multiple nutritional deficiencies brought on by eating the wrong foods, grabbing fast food on-the-run, mindless munching, and skipped meals.