Blogs & Comment

Stress can make you dumb and fat

Consider the short and long-term effects of not taking proper care of yourself.

(Photo: Jamie Grill/Getty)

Chronic stress is brutal on your body–physically and mentally–and you know it all too well. Yet, why aren’t you doing what you know you should?

-Sleeping 7-8 hours daily
-Eating three balanced meals at reasonable times each day
-Maintaining a healthy diet–lean protein, complex fiber, fruit and vegetables
-Exercising regularly–cardio 3x/week, resistance 2x/week
-Taking ‘mental health breaks’ on a routine basis with family and loved ones

Dysfunctional responses to stress become ingrained behavior over time. When we’re younger we believe we can get away with it. Fact is, we cannot! Let’s discuss the physiological impact of stress.

The body secretes the ‘stress response’ hormone, Cortisol, in response to physical or emotional duress. Cortisol’s function is to ‘prepare’ the body to meet these physical or emotional challenges by increasing the heart rate, blood pressure and level of alertness. In simplistic terms, this enables ‘fight or flight defense’ in event of ‘attack’.

But, here’s the problem: this very survival mode, unless quickly ‘unwound’, takes a serious long-term toll on health. Chronically high Cortisol (read ‘stress’) impairs natural healthy metabolism:

Short Term–making us ‘dumb’ and ‘fat’!

Cortisol-triggered survival instincts–quick decisions based on minimal analysis–impair sharp strategic thinking ability. Caffeine (in coffee, tea and cola-like beverages) is a major stimulant of cortisol secretion. Too much caffeine might make us more alert but not ‘smarter’!

Insulin–secreted in response to cortisol–causes sugars (from ingested carbohydrates) to move out of the blood stream and become stored in the form of fat–increasing overall body fat and weight. As blood sugar levels decline ‘brain fog’ ensues.

Long Term effects–triggering heart disease, cancer and chronic illnesses

The body can only endure increased cortisol secretion for a limited time. Beyond that the adrenal gland responsible for secreting the stress response hormone becomes fatigued, resulting in decreased immunity to infection, reduced ability to repair the body and increased inflammation and tissue damage.

If you think you’re tough enough to sleep only 5-6 hours, skip breakfast, miss your work-outs or skip a vacation with your family–you’ve been warned! Change your lifestyle before it takes a permanent toll on your health!

Elaine Chin, M.D., M.B.A., is a founder and Chief Medical Officer of Scienta Health, an executive health practice.