Many of us know of people who under pressure resort to “stress eating.”
Chocolate, French fries, and potato chips have all been implicated in stress overeating and while I’m sure that most junk foods have also been used for such purposes, I doubt the same could be said for foods like broccoli or blueberries.
The result – chronic stress can lead to habitual stress eating of unhealthy foods, which in turn leads to weight gain and possibly to obesity, diabetes, and a host of other health problems.
Many of us have witnessed this unfortunate progression of events, but up until recently, the biomedical research field has been unable to provide the corroborating scientific evidence.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently published a paper out of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel documenting the effects caused by changes to the gene Urocortin-3 (Ucn3).
Ucn3 is produced in certain brain cells during times of stress and is known to play a role in regulating the body’s stress response.
Dr. Alon Chen led a team of Weizmann researchers who were able to increase amounts of Ucn3 in certain areas of the brains of mice.
The results of these Ucn3 increases were two-fold: anxiety-related behavior increased while at the same time, their metabolism changed.
Specifically, the mice burned more sugars and less fatty acids and their metabolic rates increased.
An increase in metabolism is usually considered a good thing for weight loss, but not in this case.
This change in metabolism didn’t necessarily change the amount of food that the mice were ingesting, just their food preferences. Rather than eating a healthy balanced diet, the stress-induced metabolic changes caused them to choose sugary food.
Sugars are good if needing quick bursts of energy in order to escape a physical danger, but become a health issue if abused over the long term.
These mice (back to the Weizmann study) also started to show the first stage signs of type 2 diabetes with decreased sensitivity to insulin, increased sugar levels in the blood, and more insulin being produced by their pancreas.
The findings link stress to metabolic syndromes, especially diabetes and obesity.
To learn more about the effects of chronic stress, check out NICABM’s Mind/Body Courses.
In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts on the neurological effects of stress. Can information from new neurological studies help you become more effective in treating patients with chronic stress and fatigue?
Please share your thoughts and opinions below.