People who suffer long-term stress may be more prone to obesity, according to research by scientists at UCL which involved examining hair samples for levels of cortisol, a hormone which regulates the body’s response to stress.
Chronic stress has long been hypothesised to be implicated in obesity — people tend to report overeating and ‘comfort eating’ foods high in fat, sugar and calories in times of stress, and the stress hormone cortisol plays an important role in metabolism and determining where fat is stored.
Previous studies looking at the link between cortisol and obesity relied mainly on measurements of the hormone in blood, saliva or urine which may vary according to the time of day and other situational factors. These studies failed to capture long-term cortisol levels.
This research involved 2,527 men and women aged 54 and older taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, taking data over a four-year period.
They found that people who had higher levels of cortisol present in their hair tended to have larger waist circumference measurements, were heavier, and had a higher body mass index (BMI). Individuals classified as obese on the basis of their BMI (greater than or equal to 30) or waist circumference (greater than or equal to 102cm in men, 88cm in women) had particularly high levels of hair cortisol.
More research is needed and if causation is proved, then targeting cortisol levels may offer a new method for treating obesity.
Sarah E. Jackson, Clemens Kirschbaum, Andrew Steptoe. Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population-based sample of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years. Obesity, 2017; 25 (3): 539 DOI: 10.1002/oby.21733
University College London. “Long-term stress linked to higher levels of obesity, hair samples show: People who suffer long-term stress may also be more prone to obesity.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 February 2017.
Tricks from our specialist in psychology D.Beatriz Cota to learn how to handle stress
We all feel stress at one time or another. It’s a normal and healthy reaction to change or a challenge. But stress that goes on for more than a few weeks can affect your health. Keep stress from making you sick by learning healthy ways to manage it.
LEARN TO RECOGNIZE STRESS
The first step in managing stress is recognizing it in your life. Everyone feels stress in a different way. You may get angry or irritable, lose sleep, or have headaches or stomach upset. What are your signs of stress? Once you know what signals to look for, you can start to manage it.
Also identify the situations that cause you stress. These are called stressors. Your stressors could be family, work, relationships, money, or health problems. Once you understand where your stress is coming from, you can come up with ways to deal with your stressors.
AVOID UNHEALTHY STRESS RELIEF
When you feel stressed, you may fall back on unhealthy behaviors to help you relax. These may include:
Eating too much, Smoking cigarettes, Drinking alcohol or using drugs, Sleeping too much or not sleeping enough
These behaviors may help you feel better at first, but they may hurt you more than they help. Instead, use the tips below to find healthy ways to reduce your stress.
FIND HEALTHY STRESS BUSTERS
There are many healthy ways to manage stress. Try a few and see which ones work best for you
- Recognize the things you can’t change
- Avoid stressful situations.
- Get exercise
- Change your outlook.
- Do something you enjoy
- Learn new ways to relax.
- Connect with loved ones
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat a healthy diet