A new study published in the journal Obesity suggests that chronic stress is one of the leading causes of people becoming overweight. With obesity being an important cause of death in the U.S., the researchers have added a new cause that might help people combat the high obesity rates.
There is much public interest in the issue of obesity. Since it is the gateway to many other health problems, people debate intensely on what factors might cause people to become overweight. Many people might blame genes or other health problems, such as thyroid problems, when they get fat.
However, the researchers found that stress could play an important role in this process. When they are stressed, people have stated overeating or eating foods rich in sugar or fats as a way of coping. Also, the stress hormone cortisol has an important role in metabolism, so it is plausible that high levels of stress can lead to storing fat.
The data was collected from the analysis of a large group of people aged 50 or older. The results showed that the people with high levels of cortisol found in their hair had a larger waist circumference and a larger body-mass index. Also, those who were persistently obese over the past four years had higher levels of cortisol than those with a healthy or fluctuations in their weight.
The researchers chose to measure the levels of cortisol in hair since this is a more accurate way of establishing the link between obesity and long term stress. The levels of the hormone in blood, saliva, or urine depend on different factors and only give a narrow picture of the stress a person is subjected to.
The researchers took locks of approximately 2 cm from the participants’ hair, cut as closely as possible to their scalp. This is the equivalent of two months’ hair growth, so that is two months of accumulated cortisol.
Then, after measuring the height, weight, and waist circumference of the participants, they compared them with the cortisol results taken from their hair. Although overweight people tended to have higher levels of cortisol, there is not clear yet if there is a strong connection between stress and obesity.
Anyway, people should resort to cheap and effective ways of reducing stress, such as yoga or mindfulness meditation. Stress can cause other health problems and it is better to combat it than treat its effects.
Image Source: Flickr