“Stressed Out”—The Downside of Chronic Stress

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

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Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment.

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at http://amzn.to/1eju3wu or at your favorite library or bookstore.

“Stressed Out”—The Downside of Chronic Stress
When people reach a breaking point in the face of too many pressures and worries, it is common to hear them say they are “stressed out.” People usually have a sense of what those words mean, but it is important to understand the difference between being simply “stressed” and being “stressed out.”

When you are “stressed,” your body undergoes an adaptive response. Cortisol goes up and then it comes down, as described in the example of the zebra. Being “stressed out” suggests that your body is unable to mount a normal stress response. If you are “stressed out,” your cortisol rhythm stays flat—which means that your overall cortisol exposure over a twenty-four hour period is actually higher, because you never get a break from it. This unrelenting, “maladaptive” cortisol response is the hallmark of being “stressed out”—a condition that results from chronic stress.

The bad news is that modern society makes chronic stress largely inescapable. In research studies, scientists at Ohio University have shown that overall exposure to cortisol is significantly related to the degree of “daily hassles” (more hassles = more cortisol) as well as to age (higher age = higher cortisol) and to hours slept (less sleep = more cortisol). Worse than that, being “stressed out” (that is, coping with chronic stress) is believed to be the cause of many common diseases, such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and burnout, according to scientists at Rockefeller University in New York. And researchers in Boston have suggested that chronic psychological stress is a primary cause not just of cortisol overexposure but also of inflammatory diseases, including insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

When it comes to managing your weight or combating obesity, you also have to seriously consider the impact of the cortisol overexposure that accompanies chronic stress. To begin with, the level of inflammation in your body and the accumulation of abdominal fat (belly fat) are inextricably linked. That link takes place because cortisol and cytokines promote fat storage in a “chicken-and-egg” scenario in which it is often hard to tell which came first—the stress (which causes an overexposure to cortisol) or the inflammation (altered by the cytokines).
(Cytokines, explained in more detail in Part II, are a class of hormone-like signaling proteins that play a central role in the immune response and in the level of inflammation found throughout the body.)

On the cellular level, inflammation leads to obesity, which leads to more stress and inflammation, which leads to more obesity. On the other side of the coin, reducing obesity has the opposite effect: Weight loss leads to a substantial drop in inflammation and cortisol levels. And controlling stress can lead weight loss. So the “chicken-and-egg” scenario that plays out between stress-related cortisol overexposure and cytokine-regulated levels of inflammation can run two ways, positively as well as negatively. When cortisol and cytokines are locked in a downward spiral, more inflammation and more obesity result; and when that cycle is reversed, people experience weight loss. As you can see here and as you will learn throughout this book, it is the ability to manage chronic stress that determines whether these biochemical cycles turn in the right direction.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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