By Dr. Pearl Arjomand, ND
Media and society has led us to believe weight gain and obesity are largely due to poor diet and lack of exercise. Other familiar causes include poor portion control, continuous snacking and emotional eating. However, if you're over 40 and unable to loose weight like you used to in the past, stress may be the reason why.
Chronic stress is one of the biggest contributors to obesity in North America, yet it is one of the most under-treated causes in weight loss programs. Stress directly affects our hormones and can cause cravings, appetite changes, insulin resistance and inflammation. Over time stress starts to affect sex hormones such as testosterone, progesterone and estrogen, and even inhibits thyroid function, which slows down metabolism.
Symptoms that indicate there is a hormonal imbalance contributing to weight gain include the following:
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
- Waking up feeling tired despite adequate hours of sleep
- Feeling wired and experiencing anxiety
- Weight gain around the waist
- Desire to always snack and never feeling full
- Food cravings
Weight is influenced by quality and quantity of sleep. Melatonin is our major sleep hormone and is directly affected by cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to chronic stress. The more chronic and increased levels of stress there are, the more cortisol is floating around in the blood stream. This makes falling asleep and staying asleep difficult. Further, the less sleep you get per night, the more your body will produce cortisol - it's a vicious cycle! If levels of melatonin are low, this will influence other hormones in the body responsible for appetite control, satiety, cravings and mood. If you wake up in the morning feeling exhausted, it is one sure sign that you should meet with your Naturopathic Doctor to discuss supplementing with melatonin to help you reach your weight goals.
Stress and Cortisol
Cortisol influences almost every pathway that promotes weight gain. The challenging aspect of this powerful hormone is the fact that the brain becomes resistant to its signals when it's being produced in high amounts over a long period of time. The body then tries to compensate by producing even more cortisol to get the brain's attention. Cortisol directly increases fat production in the body, especially around the waist. It will also affect leptin levels which control satiety between and after meals and can reduce our fat burning rate from 92% to 35%!
Stress and Insulin
Insulin is also a hormone that signals the body to store food as fat. Stress can triple the insulin response to all grains, starches, fruits, sweets and alcohol. This means the body will respond to 1 apple as if the body just consumed 3! This exaggerated response eventually contributes to insulin resistance. So long as insulin levels are high, the body is not burning fat. Reducing snacking and waiting 5 hours between meals allows the body to start burning fat instead of using stored fuel. This proven approach to weight loss promotes more balanced regular meals and prevents insulin resistance.
Taking control of your weight - What can be done?
As most people who have tried to loose weight can attest to, the process of weight loss is much more complicated than calories consumed and calories burned. Hormones influence every step of this process especially as you get older and, without the synchronicity of these hormones, weight loss becomes a frustrating struggle.
Naturopathic Doctors have the tools to assess these possible imbalances through testing and comprehensive intakes where information is gathered to identify these issues. Even more encouraging is the fact that there are natural options that can specifically target these imbalances and promote weight loss. Here are a few key treatments that have proven to target and reset the body's response to stress:
Lactium - This is a protein derived from milk that has proven to increase the brain's receptivity to cortisol and rebalance the entire stress pathway. Patients that are allergic to dairy are still able to take this supplement.
Theanine - This amino acid derived from green tea increases alpha-waves in the brain and thereby improves the quality of sleep. It also keeps you calmer throughout the day and improves other hormones that regulate mood and appetite, such as serotonin and dopamine.
Tyrosine - This protein is required to make dopamine, a hormone that is crucial in appetite control and manages snacking and cravings. Further, tyrosine is required to produce the thyroid hormone. Without it, metabolism can slow down.
Here at Naturopathic Foundations, we have some new formulas with specific ingredients designed to support weight loss in those over 40. We are excited to share these with our patients and target an area of health where may have often stuggled. In addition, your ND will recommend dietary changes focused on removing food allergens and improving glycemic control, together with lifestyle changes as a comprehensive approach to weight loss that is safe, sustainable and unique to you.
Dr. Arjomand is a Naturopathic Doctor at Core 1 Heatlth whose practice focuses on women's health and weight loss for those over the age of 40. She is skilled to address the many areas of hormonal imbalance that may be affecting your ability to lose weight and looks forward to working with you to achieve your weight loss goals.