How Long Term Pandemic Stress, and Brain Changes Equals Weight Gain

Photo courtesy of Very Well Mind.
How Long Term Pandemic Stress, and Brain Changes Equals Weight Gain. In a study published in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers found that chronic stress results in long-term changes in the brain.3 These changes, they suggest, might help explain why those who experience chronic stress are also more prone to mood and anxiety disorders later on in life. Photo published in ‘Very Well Mind.’

As covered in the U.K.’s Daily Mail

How Long Term Pandemic Stress, and Brain Changes Equals Weight Gain

August 30, 2021– Human brains may not be wired for long term stress. On his most recent podcast, well known neurologist and founder of the Houston Healthcare Initiative, Dr. Steven Goldstein, discussed the biological reasons and brain chemistry changes that in part led to the weight gain so many experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and how long term pandemic stress and brain changes equals weight gain

The Houston Healthcare Initiative podcast can be heard on : Apple Podcasts, Audacy, iHeartRadio, ListenNotes, Spotify, Stitcher, Backtracks, PodbayFM, and SoundCloud. This and all other editions of the Houston Healthcare Initiative podcast can also be heard on www.houstonhealthcareinitiative.org.

While individuals ultimately have responsibility for what they eat, drink and how often they exercise there are physiological reasons why so many Americans put-on weight during the lockdown.

Brain Chemistry and Weight Gain

When stressed, the brain releases chemicals that make speed and strength available for a short but very intense time. Adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, increasing rates of blood circulation, breathing, and carbohydrate metabolism, preparing muscles for exertion. But when released over long periods of time those same chemicals demand a lot more brain fuel which causes individuals to eat more and more.

Automatic Brain Chemicals

There are other neurotransmitters like: serotonin, dopamine, and melatonin.

Melatonin in the body lowers at the time of the flight or fight response. Serotonin regulates emotions, appetite, and digestion. Low levels of serotonin increase anxiety and can change a person’s eating habits. Dopamine – another feel-good neurotransmitter – regulates goal-oriented motivation. Dwindling levels of dopamine can translate into lower motivation to exercise, maintain a healthy lifestyle or perform daily tasks. When people are under stress, they also produce less of the sleep hormone melatonin, leading to trouble sleeping.

The Worst and Most Preventable Co-Morbidity

The pandemic lockdown made the existing epidemic of obesity much worse. The American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” poll, conducted in late February 2021, found that 42 percent of people surveyed reported they were heavier than the previous year. People in a separate survey reportedly gained an average of 29 pounds during the pandemic, with 10 percent gaining more than 50.

How Obesity Makes Covid-19 Worse

  • The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) states that Obesity is linked to impaired immune function.
  • Obesity decreases lung capacity and reserve and can make ventilation more difficult.
  • A study of COVID-19 cases suggests that risks of hospitalization, intensive care unit admission, invasive mechanical ventilation, and death are higher with increasing BMI.
    • The increased risk for hospitalization or death was particularly pronounced in those under age 65. 
  • More than 900,000 adult COVID-19 hospitalizations occurred in the United States between the beginning of the pandemic and November 18, 2020.
  • Models estimate that 271,800 (30.2%) of these hospitalizations were attributed to obesity.

In a time when many things are beyond the control of American citizens, eating more vegetables, fruit, and lean meat in place of less nutritious options is something that can be controlled.

About The Houston Healthcare Initiative

The Houston Healthcare Initiative podcast with Dr. Steven Goldstein is an information vehicle for people who want to know all medical options for themselves and are interested in reforming the healthcare industry. To learn more about the Houston Healthcare Initiative please visit www.houstonhealthcareinitiative.org.

Pandemic Lockdown Weight Gain & the Medical Reasons for it

It’s not all your fault, it’s evolution…

Pandemic Lockdown Weight Gain & the Medical Reasons for it. At a time when Americans should have been focused on their health, as a population they were anything but. During the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown the average American gained two pounds a month, according to a study published in the The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Network Open).

But the reasons for this trend were the result of brain chemistry that evolved in humans over the millennia, according to well respected neurologist, Dr. Steven Goldstein, founder of the Houston Healthcare Initiative. He described these on his regular podcast that can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Audacy, Houston Healthcare Initiative, iHeart, Podcast Addict, Podbean, Backtracks, Soundcloud, and just about anywhere podcasts can be heard.

Stress & More Stress

Dr. Goldstein told his audience that the main reason for the weight gain was related to stress. “The main reason is stress, especially given the really bad news about the seriousness of the pandemic and the controversies about different treatments early on,” he told his listeners. “That was stress of a long duration which exacerbated the physiological accompaniments of stress.”

Fight or Flight Responses

As part of the ‘fight or flight’ response, the human brain goes on high alert. To maintain a high state of alertness requires more energy for the brain in the form of calories. “Heightened states of stress and anxiety like this require more calories to keep the brain on high alert, Dr. Goldstein stated. “We eat sugar to get a boost of energy. Sugar gets converted to energy faster but does not last long, requiring more sugar. It is a cycle that is unhealthy short term, but really bad long term.”

Long Term Fear of the Unknown as part of Pandemic Lockdown Weight Gain & the Medical Reasons for it

On top of that stress was the unknown. No one living had ever experienced anything like the Covid-19 pandemic and closure of practically everything. According to Dr. Goldstein, not knowing was a huge problem for the American psyche. Research shows that the unknown makes people more stressed than when they know something is about to happen. “In late March, April, and May of last year we really didn’t know what we were dealing with, in terms of how contagious the Covid-19 virus was or how potentially fatal it might be,” Dr. Goldstein said. “Obviously then, the unknowns of the virus and the dramatic worldwide lock downs were things none of us had any experience with and that is the perfect recipe for stress, anxiety and the overeating that accompanies both.”

To Flee or Not to Flee

Stress like this is in reaction to the ‘fight or flight’ response that is hard-wired into the consciousness of humans. According to the web site Psychology Tools, the fight or flight response is ‘an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. The perception of threat activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers an acute stress response that prepares the body to fight or flee.’ When the duration of this automatic response is months or even over an entire year, part of the evidence that Americans endured all this stress is registered on the scale.

Brain Chemistry and the Pandemic Lockdown Weight Gain & the Medical Reasons for it

So what in the human psyche links eating with stress? “Humans evolved such that when faced with stress, the body does what it must to keep the brain on high alert,” Dr. Goldstein reported. “It decreases levels of some hormones and brain chemicals to discourage behaviors that won’t help in an urgent situation, and it increases other hormones that will.” Dr. Goldstein added more details, “our ancestors had to outrun predators and other humans or be ready to fight them. Thus, we evolved to release adrenaline in response to the fight or flight response. From an evolutionary perspective, that stress responses are tuned to environmental uncertainty suggests that they gave people a better chance at survival, depending on who or what was chasing you.”

A Gut Feeling

Dr. Goldstein also explained that there was a connection between the brain and the stomach. “The brain is connected to the gut through a two-way communication system called the vagus nerve,” he said. “When you are stressed, your body inhibits the signals that travel through the vagus nerve and slows down the digestive process.”  Eating for comfort can be a natural response to stress, but when combined with the lower motivation to exercise and consumption of low-nutrient, calorie-dense food, people can and did gain weight.

About the Houston Healthcare Initiative

The Houston Healthcare Initiative podcast with Dr. Steven Goldstein is an information vehicle for people who want to know all medical options for themselves and are interested in reforming the healthcare industry. To learn more about the Houston Healthcare Initiative please visit www.houstonhealthcareinitiative.org.