Expert warns stress leaks out your skin and causes belly fat

Close up of woman fat belly
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

A neuroscientist has issued a stark warning about the impact stress can have on the body.

Dr Tara Swart says stress is 'contagious' and has the potential to cause belly fat. The health expert spoke with Steven Bartlett on his podcast show, Diary Of A CEO, alerting listeners to the insidious effects of stress.

Many people will have experienced stress, which the NHS states arises from mental or emotional pressure. The body's reaction to such tension triggers it to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

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Produced by the adrenal glands situated atop the kidneys, cortisol is released into the bloodstream at increased levels during stressful periods. Dr Swart says that stress doesn't just affect the individual; it can also spread to others.

Stress is 'contagious' and 'shows on our skin'

She explained how stress can be transmitted through sweat, affecting those around us and potentially harming their mental and physical well-being. She emphasised the importance of being mindful of our stress levels and the effect they can have on people nearby.

When asked if stress is indeed contagious, she confirmed: "Yes", reports Wales Online. Further explaining the phenomenon, she said: "Cortisol is the main stress hormone and it will leak out of our sweat."

This leakage can extend several centimetres from our bodies and can penetrate the skin of others, influencing them as well. "It can go into the skin of everybody else and it's going to impact them," she said.

Stress could cause you to get belly fat

Dr Swart also warned that stress could lead to the accumulation of belly fat, adding another concern to the list of stress-related health issues. She said excessive cortisol could lead to stubborn belly fat.

She explained: "In a 24-hour cycle, depending on your age and your gender, there's a normal range for cortisol, so it can go up and down. When something challenging happens we need to adapt and rise to meet that challenge.

"But when that level is above the top range all the time, these receptors in your brain basically think that there's an imminent threat to your survival so there's this whole cascade of hormones and they're basically cortisol causes inflammation in the body."

"So, inflammation of your vascular system, inflammation around your heart, gut and everything else." It's crucial to maintain a healthy balance of cortisol as an excess can lead to various health complications.

Dr Tara Swart further highlighted that high levels can "lead to abdominal fat, especially when stress is chronic." She drew parallels with our ancestors, explaining how in caveman times, humans would always be on the hunt for food.

"So, you know in the cave, if you were potentially going to not find food for a month, then if you had extra fat around your abdomen, you could digest that and survive until you could find food," she said.

Speaking about the difficulty of losing belly fat, she explained: "As long as you're still leaking out extra cortisol, nothing's going to change. And even exercising more or eating better less or differently, whatever it is, wouldn't shift that fat, you have to get to the root cause and you have to reduce the cortisol."

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