Eating chips, burgers, and pizza is more likely to result in weight gain if you are stressed, researchers suggest.
Professor Herbert Herzog, who led the trial, said: “This study indicates that we have to be much more conscious about what we’re eating when we’re stressed, to avoid a faster development of obesity.
“This really reinforced the idea that while it’s bad to eat junk food, eating high-calorie foods under stress is a double whammy that drives obesity.”
Professor Herzog described the results as a ‘vicious cycle’ and said when stressed, most people eat high-calorie foods rich in fat and sugar.
Researchers analyzed different parts of the brain in mice while feeding them a calorific diet. Food consumption is mainly controlled by the hypothalamus, they revealed. Amygdala, another part of the brain, processes emotional responses.
Stressed mice became obese “more quickly” than others who ate the same food in a stress-free environment.
Tests revealed a molecule called NPY played a vital role in weight gain as it lowered their ability to burn energy using heat. NPY, short for Neuropeptide Y, is produced by the brain as a natural response to stress, stimulating the need to eat not only in mice but also in humans.
Dr. Kenny Chi Kin Ip, the study co-author, said: “We discovered that when we switched off the production of NPY in the amygdala, weight gain was reduced.
“Without NPY, the weight gain on a high-fat diet with stress was the same as weight gain in the stress-free environment.”
Dr. Ip added: “This shows a clear link between stress, obesity and NPY.”
The researchers analyzed the nerve cells that produce NPY to know why there is an increase in production when stressed. It was found they had receptors for insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels.
The body normally produces insulin after a meal, helping cells absorb glucose from the blood. It also sends a ‘stop eating’ signal to the hypothalamus.
However, stress increases blood insulin. When combined with a high-calorie diet, the insulin levels increase up to ten times.
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