carolineleafThe hypothalamus is a central player in how the mind (soul) controls the body’s reaction to stress and foods. The hypothalamus is actually referred to as the “brain” of the endocrine system.It integrates signals from the mind and body, sending them throughout our bodies so that we can react in an appropriate and functional manner, “so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Eph. 4:16) 

Stage One
Stress, like real food, is not inherently bad—it depends on how we react to it. Stage one of stress is only short-term and makes us alert and ready for action. It is an appropriate response to certain situations. During this stage, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) is secreted from the hypothalamus and stimulates the pituitary glands to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH travels via the blood to the adrenal glands (above the kidneys) and stimulates them to produce the stress hormone cortisol.

On the other hand, if we react incorrectly to stress due to a “spirit of fear” (2 Tim. 1:7), our stress reaction is prolonged and becomes toxic. According to one study, increased stress can potentially increase the risk of mortality by 43 percent—but only for the individuals who believed that stress was harmful for their health. People who didn’t view stress as harmful actually decreased their risk of dying. Over the eight years of the study, the researchers estimated that the 18,200 people who died, died from the belief that stress is bad for you—that is more than two thousand deaths a year. This is a real eye-opener, because it shows that how we perceive stress determines the impact on our mental and physical health.

If you change your mind about stress, however, you can change your body’s response to stress. Instead of viewing the stress response as negative, when faced with a stressful situation you can view it as your body being energized to help you meet the challenge—rethink the stress response as helpful! Imagine your pounding heart preparing you for action; if you are breathing faster, good! You are getting more oxygen to your brain.

Stage Two
If we choose to react wrongly to a challenging situation, we will enter stage two of the stress reaction. During this stage, high levels of cortisol circulate in the blood for extended periods of time, in turn contributing to prolonged high blood sugar that can also lead to insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and weight gain, since prolonged high levels of cortisol lead to the accumulation of fat instead of fat breakdown. 

In this toxic situation, fat tends to accumulate around the middle of the body and is a risk factor for heart disease. In fact, prolonged, high levels of cortisol can lead to Cushing’s Syndrome, with its characteristic fat accumulation around the middle and back of the human body, but not on the legs, which remain thin due to muscle wastage.

Stage Three
If we continue to release cortisol, we enter stage three of the stress reaction, which can lead to adrenal exhaustion and eventually death.

So a maladaptive stress response that arises from our perceptions of stress and from excessive Modern American Diet (MAD) sugar intake can interact to make us ill and gain weight. Likewise, both a bad stress response and elevated insulin levels from too much sugar intake feed back through the brain, especially the hypothalamus. These interactions are a profound example of the interconnected nature of the brain and body, and how both signals from our thinking (the 80 percent) and our environment, or in this case eating (the 20 percent), can influence our heath both physically and mentally.

Yet there is good news! Since the mind (soul) controls the brain, including the hypothalamus, the mind is the key to breaking the maladaptive stress/sugar cycles. We can choose with our minds how we react to the circumstances of life, including stress and the foods we choose to eat.

Source: Think and Eat Yourself Smart by Dr. Caroline Leaf
All rights reserved. Used by permission.