Sunday, August 9, 2009

Chronic Stress Promotes Excess Belly Fat

Do you ever feel like everything you eat goes directly to your belly? If you are under chronic stress, that may be truer than you think. When researchers at Wake Forest University fed monkeys a typical American diet high in fat and cholesterol, they gained weight. But those who were socially stressed developed much more belly fat, a known risk factor for heart disease. And although the study was conducted primarily on monkeys, the researchers say the results would be very similar in humans and could lead to new ways of combating the ever-growing obesity epidemic in America and other Western nations.

“We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic,” said lead researcher Carol A. Shively, a professor of pathology at Wake Forest. “Much of the excess fat in many people who are overweight is located in the abdomen, and that fat behaves differently than fat in other locations. If there’s too much, it can have far more harmful effects on health than fat located in other areas.”

To better understand the role social stress plays in the development of heart disease, Shively and colleagues studied female cynomolgus monkeys that were fed a high fat and cholesterol diet and housed in a natural setting where subordinate and dominant personalities emerged. The team observed that the subordinate monkeys were less likely to be included in group activities, such as grooming, and were often targets of aggression.

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