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New Study Says Long-term Stress Can Make You Fat

Update Date: Feb 24, 2017 07:50 AM EST

A new study has found that individuals under high stress have the highest levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that causes people to eat a lot. The study was published on Thursday in the journal Obesity.

The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing compared stress levels and body weight of more than 2,500 men and women aging 54 and above. Locks of hair were gathered from the participants where cortisol was found. The hormone also determines where fat is stored in someone, those who are stressed are more likely to get flab around their stomachs.  

Sarah Jackson, study lead author from the Institute of Epidemiology and Health at University College London said they found high levels of cortisol in the hair that is significantly correlated to larger waist line and higher BMI (body mass index)."These results provide consistent evidence that chronic stress is associated with higher levels of obesity," said Jackson.

Cortisol is a hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands. It is released into the bloodstream when the body is stressed. It also helps with metabolism and maintains a steady supply of blood sugar and gives energy boost to handle emergencies. Receptors that are located in the visceral fat tissue trigger the release of cortisol, which explains its association with weight gain and loss.

CNN reported researchers harvested a 2-centimeter lock of hair from each participant that correlates to two month of growth and were followed for a four-year period. The results showed that "chronic high-level cortisol exposure may play a role in the maintenance of obesity," said Jackson. But since the study was not longitudinal, they could not establish a true cause and effect.

According to Daily Mail it is possible that stress may be due to medical conditions caused by obesity. The participants were older and levels of cortisol may differ compared to younger adults.

The researchers will continue to weigh and measure the study participants every four. If causation is proved, then targeting cortisol levels may offer a new method for treating obesity.

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