« The Endocrinology of Fear”. This is the title of the conference I’ve just attended. Initially, I imagined it would be like a remake of the “Exorcist”, diving into scary brain imagery, horrified characters, and a nerve-wracking soundtrack.
“Don’t make assumptions” Miguel Ruiz – The Four Agreements
Now on the other side, I can tell you the scenario was very different than expected: no Film Noir, no scary pictures, black comedy or horrific stories. The camera was focused on people like you and me with hopeful background music.
The script Verus the Caption
The story was about a 49 years old woman, dragging herself around, rating her overall energy as low as 3/10, putting on weight despite exercising at home most days, and drinking 2 to 3 glasses of wine at night to wind down. Does it look like your life sometimes? If it does this blog is for you. If it’s not and you are in your early 40’s, keep reading so you avoid the dreadful scenario later.
Because the caption, aka the nutritionist perspective, is delivering a different scenario: a scenario of dysregulated fear & stress response in the background, mingled with menopause, modern diet and non-recovery sleep.
The Backstory is in the dysregulated fear and stress response. With ongoing worry, busyness, as well as food and life events overload, the brain alters the amygdala and hypothalamus’ chemistry. Brain memory and recalls change over time, leading to worry and anxiety. And hormones are involved!
Around 60% of generalized anxiety disorders happen at the onset of women’s hormonal transitions, such as menopause.
The Final Story Board
After further investigation, the storyboard of weight gain, poor sleep and fatigue come up as some signs of prolonged or uncontrollable fear and stress.
A recent report found that 75% of the general public experienced at least one symptom of fear or stress in the past month. Up to fifty common signs and symptoms have been directly correlated to a state of prolonged stress or fear.
The dysregulated fear and stress response happens over time. It depletes the nervous system, disturbs the digestive system, affects the cardiovascular system and weakens the immune system. Long-term cortisol (the hormone of fear and stress) affects blood pressure regulation, diverts energy from digestion, influences sex hormone production and lowers your body’s resistance to colds and infections.
The intrigue is in the signs and symptoms. These are highly individual because prolonged fear and stress show up are the results of everyone’s personal stress landscape: a combination of early life experiences, like uncaring family or abuse, major life events such as bereavement or job loss, and ambient stressors, like noise pollution, chaotic family situation and/or job stress.
And yet, very few individuals recognize their symptoms as part of their stress landscape. But for all, it’s not only in the head. The body physiology and brain chemistry are involved. That’s where it’s time to talk about diet and lifestyle.
In the scenario above, the main character has recovered her energy and sense of calm, started to lose abdominal weight and improved her blood markers after 12 weeks of nutritional coaching. To achieve her goal, she thrived on fasting and high-intensity training, where another woman may need low dose supplements and tiny steps in diet and exercise.
One size does not fit all because the mountains and valleys in your stress landscape (your personal allostatic load) is unique.
– Diet has an impact on the hippocampus function in your brain,
– Food timing may heighten or decrease your sense of worry or anxiety
– The lipid composition of your meal affects your stress resilience.
– Adapted physical activity is involved in your recovery
– Mindfulness is required to kill stress in the bud
This is the conversation I’ve had lately with women struggling with their weight gain and digestive turmoil in their 40+*.
* This article provides general advice. The information provided is not a substitute for medical or psychological support. It is solely for educational and information purposes. Consult your health care provider if you are suffering from severe anxiety, panic attacks or depression, or to ensure any diet or lifestyle changes are right for you. As every single individual’s circumstances will be different, no individual results should be seen as typical.