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Blog-watch: stress and body fat

May 10th, 2012 · 2 Comments · Diet, Psychology, Training

One of the biggest reasons I gave up my desk job was to reduce the stress in my life.  I would like to live as healthy a lifestyle as I can manage and decided that I could arrange my life so that I didn’t need the level of income that came from a five-day-per-week high-hours high-responsibility desk job.  Without the desk job I hoped to be both happier and healthier.

One of the other potential benefits I expected was to finally get rid of the lump of fat that has sat on my upper hips since I was in my teens.  Despite some really hard and effective fat loss diets over the last few years this stubborn fat area wouldn’t leave me.  My suspicion was that it was related to the stress in my life and that it would never go until I got rid of the stress.

Can I lose my stubborn fat area by taking more time to sit, think and relax?

There are links between hormone cortisol (often triggered by stress) and body fat levels.  However, before I move into an article next week to explain my own cortisol and body fat experiment, I thought I would do a blog-watch to pull together some resources about stress and body fat.  This should provide a huge amount of information and background reading on the topic.

  • To start off here’s an overall reminder on stress and cortisol.  Last year I did a blog-watch on stress.  Chris had been very strongly affected by some research he’d done into stress and how it impacts on health.  He did a long series of articles on his own website about this and I pulled these together in a summary.
  • Staying with Chris for one of the specific studies from that previous blog-watch, here’s an article looking at why stress makes you fat.  In this article Chris explains how elevated cortisol causes gluconeogenesis – in other words, if you are chronically stressed (in a state of cortisol production from stress all the time) it creates a similar effect on the body as if you were eating piles of sugar all the time.  Chris also refers to a fascinating study that implies that the stress doesn’t need to be that stressful in the traditional sense to create a state of chronic stress.
  • Next up is an article in Science Daily that refers to a study published in 2000 (I believe that the study is Stress and Body Shape: Stress-Induced Cortisol Secretion Is Consistently Greater Among Women With Central Fat by Epel E S, McEwen B, Seeman T, Matthews K, Castellazzo G, Brownell K D, Bell J, Ickovics J R, found free here).  This study was one of the first to look at cortisol responses in lean women rather than overweight women and identified that the lean women with greater abdominal fat also had higher levels of life stress and exaggerated responses to cortisol.  The focus on lean women rather than overweight women will have made the differences clearer – in overweight women I would imagine that it is harder to pinpoint which of the fat is connected to the cortisol.  I find it interesting that the article explains that the cortisol causes fat to be stored centrally around the organs as part of the protection mechanism.  My cortisol fat was very definitely around my upper hip, which is lower than the traditional abdominal area.
  • Len Kravitz has published on his University of Mexico site an article written by Christine Maglione-Garves et al. looking at the links between stress and weight.  It’s a well-written article that is concise and each to read while being better-researched than many articles you might find on the internet.  I particularly like the simple-to-read explanation of what happens at a tissue level with the cortisol and why it creates the fat stores.  If you want to know a bit more about the enzymes then this is the article for you.

There should be plenty of reading for you in those links.  However, if you want to read a bit more and are feeling in a technical mood then there are a few studies that might be worth looking at too:

  • Stress and Body Shape: Stress-Induced Cortisol Secretion Is Consistently Greater Among Women With Central Fat; Epel E S, McEwen B, Seeman T, Matthews K, Castellazzo G, Brownell K D, Bell J, Ickovics J R.  Psychomatic Medicine 2000; 62:623-632. (Copy of study available free here.)
  • Glucose but Not Protein or Fat Load Amplifies the Cortisol Response to Psychosocial Stress; Gonzalez-Bono E, Rohleder N, Hellhammer D H, Salvador A, Kirschbaum C.  Hormones and Behaviour 2002; 41:328-333.  (Copy of study available free here.) – a particularly interesting study since it was looking at whether all energy availability had this effect on cortisol responses to pscholsocial stress or if it was only glucose.  They found that the cortisol increase was greater in the glucose group than in the other groups.
  • Is visceral obesity a physiological adaptation to stress?  Drapeau V, Therrien F, Richard D, Tremblay A.  Panminerva medica 2003; 45:189-195.  (Abstract here.) – an interesting-looking study that, among other things, raises the question of whether it is just stress causing the visceral fat or if the visceral fat also then causes some stress.  I think they’ve probably got a point there, that once you get into this cycle it can become a downward spiral without some serious action to reverse the process.

That’s all I’ve got time for this week (this is already 10 minutes late – I went for a pre-dinner walk with Chris which is all part of my own de-stressed approach to life) but hopefully there is plenty of interesting reading to give you something to think about.  Next week I’ll be revealing the graphs and details of what my own body shape looked like before and after giving up the full-time desk job.

Is more sleep and time outdoors (perhaps even combining them, like Jake the cat) the way to a leaner body?

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