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Frazzled, tense, anxious, worried, wound up, burning the candle at both ends….
The list of words to describe the feeling goes on and on but they all boil down to the fact that you’re stressed out.
And, with the holidays here, your stress levels may have gone from astronomical to completely unbearable.
While you may already have heard that living with this type of chronic stress is bad for your heart and even your brain, you may not know that it could also be making you fat, and not just because you might reach for more comfort foods when you’re stressed.
You see, there’s a stress hormone in your body that plays an important role in metabolism and determining where fat is stored that could be behind you packing on the pounds.
And, according to a new study, it effects how likely you are to be obese – over time.
Let’s take a look…
The cortisol connection
This research at the University College London involved 2,527 men and women over a four-year period.
In the study, the scientists took a lock of hair from each participant, representing approximately two months’ hair growth with associated accumulated levels of cortisol (the major stress hormone).
They also examined the participants’ weight, body mass index and waist circumference and how hair cortisol related to the persistence of obesity over time.
They found that people who had higher levels of cortisol present in their hair tended to have larger waist circumference measurements, were heavier, and had a higher body mass index (BMI).
In fact, those classified as obese on the basis of their BMI (greater than or equal to 30) or waist circumference (greater than or equal to 102cm in men, 88cm in women) had particularly high levels of hair cortisol.
So, if cortisol, thanks to chronic stress, is making you fat, what can you do?
Say goodbye to stress and its hormones
You may be ready to head off to the doctor and get a prescription for anti-anxiety medication to manage your stress but don’t run out the door yet.
Those medications come with a whole host of side effects from drowsiness and dizziness to nausea and vomiting. And, one of their more pronounced side effects is weight gain!
That’s why it’s better to manage your stress and control your levels of that stress hormone cortisol naturally. Here’s how:
- Watch what you eat – Poorly managed blood sugar levels and high levels of inflammation can contribute to high cortisol levels and other hormonal imbalances. Eat a diet rich in whole grains and vegetables and limit carbohydrates and sugars.
- Supplement with vitamin C – The highest concentration of Vitamin C in the body is found in the adrenal glands. Vitamin C is essential to produce cortisol, the ‘fight-or-flight’ stress hormone. Without an adequate supply of Vitamin C, your adrenal glands ‘panic,’ and actually produce more.
- Get a massage regularly – A relaxing massage could reduce your cortisol levels by up to 30%.
- Use deep breathing techniques – Deep breathing is a simple technique for stress reduction that can be used anywhere. A study of 28 middle-aged women found a nearly 50% reduction in cortisol with habitual deep breathing training.
- Exercise regularly – Mild or moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming or mowing the lawn, at 40–60% of maximum effort does not increase cortisol in the short term like high intensity training, but still leads to lower levels of the stress hormone at night.
- Get more sleep – Sleep deprivation can increase your body’s levels of cortisol. Aim for at least eight to nine hours of high quality sleep each night.
- Listen to music – One study found that listening to relaxing music for just 30 minutes had a positive effect on cortisol levels.
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- Long-term stress linked to higher levels of obesity, hair samples show — University College London
- Mental Health Medications — The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy — International Journal of Neuroscience
- The role of deep breathing on stress — Neurological Sciences
- PTSD Symptom Reduction With Mindfulness-Based Stretching and Deep Breathing Exercise: Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial of Efficacy — The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism
- Twenty-four-hour cortisol response to multiple daily exercise sessions of moderate and high intensity — Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging
- The relationship between serum and salivary cortisol levels in response to different intensities of exercise — International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance
- The effect of shift rotation on employee cortisol profile, sleep quality, fatigue, and attention level: a systematic review — Journal of Nursing Research
- The effects of music and visual stress on testosterone and cortisol in men and women — Neuroendocrinology Letters