Five ways stress is making you bloated, cranky and forgetful

Find out what stress does to your body when you let it become part of your every day.

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Hot water bottle, sore stomach
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We all have stress. Whether its getting stuck in traffic on the way to an important meeting, swimming in a sea of deadlines before a vacation or incurring a sudden expense that costs more than you anticipated…the list goes on. The real problem however occurs when stress becomes constant or chronic in your life.

If you’re perplexed as to why you have a sluggish metabolism, ferocious PMS, memory problems, belly fat and beyond, you may want to look at what’s keeping you up at night. Here are a few reasons why your stress levels are to blame.

1. Stress lowers thyroid hormone
Cortisol works in tandem with the master of your metabolism, your thyroid. If you’re cranking out cortisol (the stress hormone), you’ll start getting resistance from hormone receptors so it will require more hormones to create the same effect (creating a viscous stress cycle).

Researchers at the University of North Carolina have linked strenuous, fatiguing exercise to higher cortisol and lower thyroid hormones as well, showing that doing too much of any activity can be damaging to your well being. If you’re training for a long run or upping your exercise drastically be sure to consult a physician to ensure you’re not doing more harm than good.

2. Stress increases PMS
Cortisol and progesterone (the hormone that dictates your monthly period) are in constant competition when it comes to your cells. They compete for common receptors and too much cortisol can impair your progesterone’s activities, leaving you at risk for PMS.

Researchers found that women who are under stress in the first half of their menstrual cycle are more likely to experience symptoms of PMS like cramping, bloating and mood swings later in the month. If you want to put a halt to that monthly bloating and irritability, find ways to curb your stress levels throughout the month.

3. Stress makes you older, faster
A recently published cohort study from Finland found strong evidence that work-related stress in midlife predicts functional limitations and disability in your later years. The researchers found that “the chronic activation of stress responses may result in the ‘wear and tear’ of the human body and thus increase the risk of old age disability.” After all, excess cortisol makes you feel fatter, weaker and older than you really are. The key is to curb your cortisol while you’re in your younger years. For a 10 minute solution, see my meditation article here.

4. Stress increases belly fat
A 35-year Swedish study of 7,500 men found that participants who reported permanent stress have a significantly higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than their counterparts who reported no stress. Not to mention that over time, exposure to cortisol decreases the body’s response to insulin and leads to increased insulin levels, upping our storage of body fat.

A long-term study published in the journal Diabetes Care followed a group of women for 15 years. The women who reported feeling frequently and intensely angry, tense or stressed also showed increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, the condition associated with insulin resistance.

Now, to all the worrywarts out there, what if every time you felt stressed you thought to yourself “is this really worth getting belly fat over?” It may certainly pay homage to the recommendation that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. 

5. Stress affects learning
While some people thrive under pressure, chronic stress is likely to reduce, rather than improve, your cognitive abilities. Researchers discovered a neural mechanism that directly links repeated stress with impaired memory. In fact, stress can wreak particular havoc on your brain as you age by affecting receptors connected to learning and memory. The research helps explain why too much stress over a prolonged period interferes with the normal processes in storing everyday memories.

A similar study by the University of Edinburgh found that high levels of the stress hormone in aged mice made them less able to remember how to navigate a maze. Additional research found that optimists are better at regulating stress. Wanting to protect your brain (and body composition) is another great reason to not sweat the small stuff.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.