By Dr Renad Seheimat,
Clinical Pathologist & Laboratory Medicine Specialist
Women are living under chronic stress. Meeting deadlines, growing debt, driving in rush hour, grocery shopping, preparing family meals, managing family disputes…it’s all contributing to burnout.
When your body is on constant alert, your brain thinks your life is in danger and goes into ‘fight or flight’ response. It stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol. These stress hormones provides instant energy for five to 10 minutes, allowing you to react swiftly to dangerous situations.
The extra energy is provided by raising your blood sugar and fat levels for fighting and fleeing. If you don’t, the fat and glucose swimming around your system get deposited as fat around the middle of your body. And if you eat something sugary or fatty as a consequence of the post-stress appetite surge, any weight you gain as a result will be around your waist too. The fat around your middle (apple shape), more so than fat on your thighs or bottom (pear shape), increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and cancer.
Are you stressed?
If you complain of the following symptoms, your cortisol levels are likely to be high:
A tendency to gain fat around your tummy
Increased appetite and cravings for sweets, breads, cakes and caffeine
Frequent colds and infections
Blood sugar swings
Headaches, muscle aches and pains like shoulder and neck pain (stress hormones will keep certain muscles tense, ready for fight or flight)
Irregular periods or no periods
Difficulty in concentrating or forgetfulness
Increased premenstrual symptoms (PMS)
Low sex drive
Waking up in the middle of the night, finding it hard to get back to sleep or inability to sleep well
How can you measure the fat around your waist?
Take a measuring tape and compare your waist measurement (at the narrowest point) with your hip measurement (at the widest point). Divide your waist figure by your hip figure to get what is known as your waist-hip ratio. If your calculation is greater than 0.8 then you are apple shaped and need to take action.
1. Doing lab tests
Check your cortisol, cholesterol, blood sugar and insulin levels. Chronic stress will cause higher or lower than normal levels of cortisol hormone levels. Your cholesterol and sugar and insulin levels are likely to be high too which is medically called Insulin Resistance. This is a pre-diabetic state and should be treated to avoid developing diabetes and further weight gain or health issues.
2. Seeing a nutritionist
Insulin resistance needs a healthy eating plan, not dieting. Try frequent small meals that include protein, good fats and less sugar and avoid starvation which puts the body in stress mode and further increases fat storage.
3. Addressing and managing stress
Now that you know how detrimental stress is to your health, it’s time to hit the gym, join a yoga class, or practice meditation. If you have sleeping problems or anxiety attacks, acupuncture helps too.
4. Cut down your caffeine intake
While a caffeine boost may seem to help combat stress at first, it can exacerbate anxiety and other stress-related signs and symptoms in many ways. Caffeine consumption can more than double your blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol! Go for herbal teas instead of black tea or coffee to lower your cortisol levels.
6. Try herbs and supplements*
Siberian Ginseng is an adaptogen (a substance that increases resistance to stress) that supports your adrenal glands which produces cortisol.
Vitamin C is crucial for adrenal gland function. The more cortisol is made, the more vitamin C is used. Research has shown that people who have good levels of vitamin C burn 30% more fat when they exercise.
B vitamins and Zinc are important to produce your stress hormones. B vitamins are needed for sugar metabolism (the process of turning the energy from the foods you eat into fuel your body’s cells need to grow and function).
Chromium and Alpha lipoic acid are very important for losing that apple shape. They are needed for the metabolism of sugar and in helping insulin take glucose into the cells. Without chromium, insulin is less effective at controlling blood sugar levels and glucose levels rise.
* Be sure to consult your health care professional before taking any herb or supplement