Stress and Obesity - a Linked Pair

Obesity is linked to changes in the way the body deals with stress

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) When people are stressed, the body changes the way it controls energy for the brain. New research shows that people who are obese may have different stress reactions than normal weight people. 

Obese men had fewer changes in energy control for the body than normal weight men after giving a speech to an audience. The bodies of obese men reacted less to the stress, which may be important for finding out why obesity is hard to overcome. 

"Take small steps to lower stress in your life."

Insulin has the job of gathering extra energy in the body and storing it for later use. During stressful events, hormones tell the body to stop producing insulin, which frees up more energy for the brain to deal with the stress.

A study conducted by researchers in Germany, led by Britta Kubera, PhD, looked at insulin levels of men who were obese and compared them to men who were normal weight. The men in the study were asked to speak in front of an audience - known as a social stress - and their blood was tested before, during, and after the stressful task.

Obese men in this study did not have lowered insulin during the speeches they gave. 

The authors note that the reason for these differences between normal weight and obese men is not known. They proposed that when stress is constant it may change the body’s coping strategy. Continuous high stress can change the body’s stress reactions and is also linked to obesity.

The authors stated in their paper that this “…on the one hand allows to relieve the overloaded stress system and to improve mood, but on the other hand makes it necessary to increase eating behavior in order to supply the brain.” 

This was a small, controlled study testing men only, so it is not clear if these results are true for all people.

Results of this study were published in the March issue of Frontiers in Neurogenetics. Research supported by a grant from the German Research Foundation. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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Review Date: 
March 31, 2012
Last Updated:
April 6, 2012