Bad diet and chronic stress is double whammy for metabolic syndrome risk

People who eat a high-fat, high-sugar diet who are also chronically stressed are more prone to health risks than people with the same diet but lower stress levels, a new study reports.

According to researchers from UC San Francisco, chronic stress can influence the biology of disease - and accelerate the process of metabolic syndrome in people who already have poor nutrition habits.

"Many people think a calorie is a calorie, but this study suggests that two women who eat the same thing could have different metabolic responses based on their level of stress," said Kirstin Aschbacher, PhD, an assistant professor in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and lead author. "There appears to be a stress pathway that works through diet - for example, it could be similar to what we see in animals, where fat cells grow faster in response to junk food when the body is chronically stressed."

Larger waistline, more insulin resistance

The study evaluated 61 healthy woman - 33 of whom were chronically stressed and 28 who reported low levels of stress.

Researchers measured particpants' waistlines, fat distribution, insulin resistance, stress hormones and oxidative damage.

"We found that more frequent high fat, high sugar consumption significantly predicted a larger waistline, more truncal fat, higher oxidative damage, and more insulin resistance, but only among the group of women exposed to chronic stress," said Aschbacher. "The chronically stressed women didn't report eating more high sugar, high fat foods than the low stressed women; however, they did have higher levels of a stress-related biomarker, peripheral Neuropeptide Y (NPY)."

Animal studies have shown more NPY combined with junk food can create bigger abdominal fat cells, Aschbacher explained.

"The medical community is starting to appreciate how important chronic stress is in promoting and worsening early disease processes."

Based on the results of the study, increasing stress resilience could help individuals to reduce metabolic syndrome and potentially prevent obesity and diabetes, she concluded.

Source: University of California, San Francisco

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