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It's Official - Stress Makes You Fat

Posted: Saturday, July 14, 2007

Australian scientists have discovered why stress can make us fat. New research published in an international journal has revealed that chronic stress triggers the body's fat cells to grow and multiply. 

The link between stress and obesity has been known for more than a decade but these findings are the first to explain how exactly the connection works.

The research by Australian, US and Slovakian scientists could lead to new therapies that shrink fat cells or make them die.

Professor Herbert Herzog, director of neuroscience at the Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research, said he expected the findings to have a profound effect on the way society deals with the obesity epidemic.

The research team made its discovery by feeding stressed and unstressed mice a "comfort food" diet high in fat and sugar.

The stressed mice gained twice as much fat as unstressed mice, because the stress caused fat to be stored differently.

Prof Herzog said a molecule called neuropeptide Y, released by the body when stressed, appeared to unlock receptors in the body's fat cells, stimulating the cells to grow in size and number.  This same mechanism was expected in humans.

While the stress reaction was normal and unavoidable, scientists are working to block the dangerous knock-on fat reaction that it triggers.

"If we can interfere before it causes fat to amass, it could have a major impact on cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer which all have links with obesity," Prof Herzog said.

Study leader Professor Zofia Zukowska, of Georgetown University, said they also hoped to be able to target obesity directly.

"We may be able to reverse or prevent obesity caused by stress and diet, including the worst kind of obesity - the apple-shaped type," Prof Zukowska said.

Source: Diabetes In Control: Nature Medicine. July 2, 2007

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