Dr. Carolyn Ross has learned through observation of her patients that many medical problems are linked to lifestyle habits and problems in managing stress. There is an automatic physiological reaction when you are under stress. The hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol causes the release of insulin, the fat storage hormone. Insulin levels rise when your blood sugar rises from eating. Some of those calories will be stored as fat because that's the nature of insulin.
(Transcribed from video interview)
Stress and weight are very integrally connected and this, again, goes back to the brain. And when you look at what happens in the brain under stress, most of you know about the fight/flight reaction. Well, in the fight/flight reaction, if someone comes up to you and puts a gun to your head and then says, “Your money or your life,” then your body automatically goes and secretes certain hormones. If that stress becomes chronic, the hormone that’s secreted is called cortisol, and cortisol encourages the feeding, stimulates overeating.
So having high levels of cortisol can be one of the factors that promotes overeating, as well, we know that many women who are obese have suffered from either neglect or abuse, either physical, sexual or emotional during childhood, and children who have experienced abuse or neglect also have a hyperactive stress response. So they are like on red alert all the time, which again correlates with increase in cortisol levels.
Cortisol also affects the secretion of the hormone insulin from our pancreas and you know insulin goes up whenever your blood sugar goes up from eating. Well, when insulin goes up and you don’t use up all of the calories that you eat then insulin’s job is to store fat. And so, high insulin levels are also associated with high levels of cortisol, or stress, and that promotes fat storage.
About Dr. Ross, M.D., M.P.H.:
Dr. Carolyn Ross, M.D., M.P.H., completed her undergraduate degree in Modern Foreign Languages at Purdue University and worked as a full-time mother of her two older sons before returning to school to complete her pre-med requirements.