Does Stress Make You Fat? (Continued)
Stress...fat...an endless cycle? It may be a classic catch-22, but how do we put the kibosh on the whole thing? (continued)
Let's look at yoga first. Once the practice only of serious hippies and people living in ashrams, yoga is now as mainstream as the Stairmaster. Because yoga is touted to be relaxing, researchers have conducted studies to measure yoga's effect on stress and health.
One study, published in the May 2007 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed that yoga practitioners experience a 27 percent increase in levels of a neurotransmitter known as GABA after a one-hour yoga session. Low levels of this brain chemical are associated with anxiety and depression, so these findings point to the possibility that regular yoga practice may somehow offset that drop in GABA. Though the study was small, the researchers broke new ground using high-tech brain imaging to gauge the levels of the neurotransmitter before and after the yoga session, comparing the results to a control group of people who simply read during the hour-long session.
Consider those findings in light of these: In another study from 2005, a group of 98 people were given blood tests at the beginning and end of a 10-day yoga-based intervention that involved yoga, relaxation techniques, group support, and lectures. In this short period, researchers saw marked improvements in fasting blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
So, perhaps yoga — or rather the type of physical and mental activity that yoga entails — causes a tide of positive physiological responses that affect our health in any number of positive ways, from making us feel less stressed or depressed to regulating what goes on at the cellular level in our blood vessels and organs.
Meditation is the other formerly fringe activity that has attracted the interest of scientists for its ability to dramatically affect health, mood, and behavior. Although a June 2007 meta-analysis, from the University of Alberta in Canada, was unable to show a definitive health effect from meditation, individual studies have had some impressive results.
In a study published in the June 2006 Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers conducted a trial in which 52 patients with coronary heart disease were instructed in meditation and another 51 received health education. At the end of the study, patients in the meditation group had significantly lower blood pressure, improved fasting blood glucose and insulin levels (signifying reduced insulin resistance) and more stable functioning of the autonomic nervous system, which controls the heart and other involuntary muscles.
The researchers speculate that the benefits come from meditation's ability to mitigate the body's response to stress, not from an actual reduction in the stress itself.
So maybe it's that activities like yoga, meditation, running — anything that focuses your mind and alters your breathing to a deeper, more regular pattern — cause a domino effect throughout the body that includes throwing a wrench in that fat-cell-receptor response that caused the stressed mice to get obese.
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