Does Stress Make You Fat?
Or Does Fat Make You Stressed?
Stress...fat...an endless cycle? It may be a classic catch-22, but how do we put the kibosh on the whole thing?
Americans: smart and industrious, democratic and free — and, unfortunately, anxiety-riddled and overweight . Stress and fat go together like peanut butter and jelly (on Wonder bread). Researchers have known for over a decade that there's a connection between chronic stress, fat and obesity. But new studies have identified the exact chain of molecular events that links the two conditions, according to reports in the July 1, 2007, online version of Nature Medicine (doi: 10.1038/nm1611).
The Stress-Fat Connection
Stress is like a steroid for fat cells. When the body is stressed, one of the substances it releases is a a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol causescauses heart rate and blood pressure to increase, along with a number of other physiological reactions. It causes the release of fatty acids from fat tissues, and raises blood pressure. One other thing this molecule does is to unlock certain receptors in fat cells, allowing them to grow bigger than normal and also to multiply.
Scientists at Georgetown University have found a connection between stress, a high-calorie diet, and extreme weight gain. These scientists tested two groups of mice — a stressed group and a non-stressed group. Each group was fed normal diets and high-fat and high-sugar ("comfort food") diets. The stressed mice on the high-fat and high-sugar diet gained twice as much fat as unstressed mice on the same diet. The stressed animals used and stored fat differently than the non-stressed ones.
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I'm sitting waiting for a table at the cafe' for me and a friend who is running a bit late. Feeling a little off, I grab my test kit and poke my finger, getting a little blood droplet. "Does that hurt?" Asks the man sitting next to me. He's an older guy, with some pretty profound ear hair. I note the ear hair as I say "Sort of... I think I'm kind of used to it now. I've been doing it a long time." My sugar is a little elevated...