Stress: The Health “Terminator”

Stress… We feel it frequently, and, if we are honest, we often accidentally “invite it” into our lives. Yet one thing is certain…. no one likes stress!

I suspect you have felt unwanted stress in your life this week. Think about it… Maybe it has been every day this week? Or, perhaps you are the rare individual who has managed life so well that unwanted stress stays at a distance and peace and joy are your “norm”.

Regardless of stress in your past, know that if unmanaged stress prevails in your future it will almost assuredly take its toll on your health. In fact, I’ve seen this happen with such regularity in my patients, I’ve nicknamed stress as the health and weight loss “Terminator”. You see, stress (without a preventive plan) “terminates” optimum health and weight control through 4 relentless hormonal assaults that must be managed!

Here are some examples of patient experiences that I’ve heard from real patients (details have been modified and merged to protect privacy). The themes and devastating results are similar, but circumstances are always unique. As you can see, overwhelming stress is often due to unavoidable and unexpected circumstances, and it is always unwanted.

Stress Example #1: “Dr. Tague, my weight often fluctuates 10-20 lbs, but when I took this new job 18 months ago, my weight skyrocketed 34 lbs to an all time high. I’ve never had so much stress. And now I’ve got high blood sugar. I need your help. Just tell me what to do.”

Stress Example #2: “Dr. Tague, after I gained 15 lbs, my husband stopped touching me. He said I better lose weight ‘or else’. The stress and conflict drove me to eat even more and all the wrong foods. And I couldn’t stop. My weight is now up another 45 lbs, and if I can’t get control soon, I know our marriage is over. I’m depressed, my joints ache, I’ve got no energy, and my cholesterol is higher than ever. Can you help me?”

Stress Example #3: “Yikes, HELP! My husband lost his job of 20 years. Up until then, I was eating well, feeling great, and getting all sorts of compliments about my appearance and how young I looked. Since the upheaval and move, I’m eating anything and everything. My weight is up 35 lbs, I cry when I look in the mirror, and my doctor wants me to take cholesterol medicine. Can you help?”

A common medical approach to the above patients would be to start writing prescriptions for sleep, cholesterol, joint pain, diabetes, and depression. Unfortunately, that does not get to the underlying problem, does nothing for the uncontrolled eating, and does not really solve core impact of stress triggered hormones.

Let’s look at 4 “Hormonal Assaults” from Stress:

Assault #1) Leptin hormone levels decrease. Leptin is a hormone from fat tissue that reduces the appetite and stimulates a healthy metabolism. As the leptin level in our blood decreases, hunger, cravings, and eating increase. The slower metabolism guarantees the increased food will turn into body fat.

Assault #2) Ghrelin hormone levels increase. Ghrelin is a hormone from the stomach and intestine that triggers hunger and thoughts of food. An increase in eating and weight gain follows.

Assault #3) Neuropeptide Y increases. This triggers an increase in the size and number of fat cells, again causing weight gain.

Assault #4) Cortisol increases. Excess cortisol is associated with abdominal weight gain, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure.

Summary: Stress triggers 4 devastating hormone changes that result in:

  • Excessive hunger and overwhelming food cravings
  • Excessive weight gain, a primary cause of disease and early death
  • Slowing of metabolism, remarkable fatigue
  • High blood sugars, potentially causing diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Emotional distress
  • Unwanted disease risks: Heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, depression.

So now you know why I nicknamed stress the health and weight control “Terminator”. What should we do about stress? Here are 5 keys to success:

Key #1. Seek wise counsel and avoid unnecessary stress. Sometimes we can use wisdom to escape or minimize chronic stress in our lives.

Key #2. Stay fit. Fitness time limits or prevents the damage from stress. Fitness, with stimulation of our cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, causes stress hormones to move in a healthy direction, the opposite of stress.

Key #3. Seek medical support, especially if unwanted weight gain and health consequences have already raised their ugly heads!

Key #4. Maintain a health-promoting lifestyle. During times of stress, getting your 7 ½ hours of sleep each night, keeping relationships healthy, maintaining spiritual and emotional health, are therapeutic.

Key #5. Make excellent nutrition a TOP PRIORITY! When stress comes, we need excellent nutrition more than ever. Take your Essential Nutrients every day and eat health-promoting foods (like quality meal replacements) first so cravings and appetite stay controlled. One of our targeted supplements (Satisfy Fiber) actually suppresses ghrelin, the hunger hormone! Nutritional strategies CAN and WILL win over stress cravings!

Stress is a powerful enemy against Optimum Health. Identify sources of stress, strategize against them, and keep health-promoting routines in place at all times. Daily health-promoting routines are your path to Optimum Health.

If you are one of our patients, you know EXACTLY what those daily routines are, because we’ve put them in writing for you! Don’t forget them! They are your keys to health success, and they will win over stress, the health and weight loss Terminator!

For Optimum Health,

Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H.

P.S. If you are not yet a patient with us, let us know how we can assist you on your Optimum Health journey. Optimum health and weight control is always worth the effort!

Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H. & T.M. is a nutrition & weight loss specialist and the Founder & Medical Director of the Center for Nutrition and Preventive Medicine, P.A.

Dr. Tague is an Alpha Omega Alpha honors graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. He also holds a Masters Degree in Public Health from Tulane. Dr. Tague is board certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Family Medicine. His medical practice has focused on optimum health, nutrition, and weight loss since 1996.

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