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Studies Make Strong Case for Relationship Between Stress and Excess Belly Fat

Jul 20, 2005 | New studies are confirming the connection between stress and weight gain, particularly the fat that accumulates around the middle referred to as “belly fat.”

Studies done in rats and monkeys, as well as a Yale University study of lean women with excess belly fat, showed a correlation between stomach fat and an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.

The Yale study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that women who stored fat at the waistline produced more of the stress hormone cortisol in response to stress tests than those who stored fat in their hips.

In addition, a series of rat studies at the University of California-San Francisco, support a connection between stress and the consumption of fatty and sugary foods.

The rats that lived more stressful lives, spending more time in a confined space, consumed less healthy food and a greater amount of sugar water. As the rats put on more belly fat, stress hormones were reduced.

Similar results occurred in monkey studies at Wake Forest University, where the animals living under stress, and fed an American diet, accumulated fat around their abdomens.

“It’s why comfort food may reduce stress” said Mary Dallman, UCSF professor of physiology. “It may be you feel better if you put on belly fat if you are under conditions of chronic stress.”

In humans, research shows that “night-eating syndrome” which triggers binge eating is linked to elevated stress hormones and that people with higher levels of cortisol have more visceral fat.

Naturally, the diet-drug industry is using the research to help promote pills such as CortiSlim marketed by Window Rock Enterprises in a popular infomercial. CortiSlim claims to lower stress hormones.

Another company, Carter-Reed Co. of Salt Lake City, maker of Relacore, has sued the FTC in U.S. District Court, contending that it has a right to make its marketing claims, which it says are truthful.

Many experts as well as the FDA, however, take the position that these claims cannot be substantiated. Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have taken action against the companies.

Researchers agree the answer is not in a magic pill. The studies, following on the heels of the hard-hitting exposés of the fast-food industry including the book Fast Food Nation and the movie Super-Size Me, encourage managing stress and the resulting cravings for fatty foods through exercise.

Physical activities need not be strenuous. Yoga and meditation, activities that emphasize the mind-body connection, can be useful fighting stress and losing weight.

One important factor that all of these studies may be pointing to, however, is that stress-management may turn out to be an important and effective weapon in the battle against the obesity epidemic in America that is presently being overlooked. 

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