Dealing with stress, and the appetite that comes with it
With the relaxation of summer days now a hazy memory and school and work schedules in full swing, you might notice your stress levels are up.
People struggling with chronic stress from difficult life circumstances or trauma are especially negatively affected by stress. Unfortunately, stress takes a major toll on not just the mind, but the body and could even be sabotaging your best efforts at a healthy lifestyle.
Understanding how stress works and what to do to manage it better can help you stay balanced through the ups and downs of life.
There’s no doubt that stress can have an adverse impact on appetite and eating habits. Short-term stress causes the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine, reducing appetite as a part of the body’s fight-or-flight response.
However, if stress or the perception of stress continues the body releases another hormone called cortisol, which increases appetite. Cortisol is at least partly responsible for the stress-induced cravings that result in overeating high-sugar and high-fat foods.
Once cortisol levels fall, appetite returns to normal. Though, if stress levels remain high, cortisol and its physiological repercussions can persist.
Stress disrupts the body’s functioning on a cellular level, but the relationship between stress and human health is complicated. Researchers are looking at how chronic stress impacts the body’s ability to regulate inflammation. Chronic stress has been linked to inflammatory conditions such as depression, heart disease and infectious disease.
A recent study published in Molecular Psychiatry found that undergoing stressful events seems to negate healthy eating practices. The researchers looked at how intake of saturated fats and unsaturated fats affected inflammatory markers in the context of stress. Although those who consume healthier unsaturated fats have less inflammation, after withstanding stressful events those who ate the healthier fats fared no better than those consuming saturated fats.
Although this may seem like a license to indulge when life gets tough, and more stress-related research is needed, this is evidence that those living with chronic stress are at higher risk of harmful inflammation and are in serious need of an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense diet.