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Relationship between psychological stress and ghrelin concentrations in pregnant women with overweight or obesity.


Exposure to, perception of, and response to stress have all been shown to influence appetite and dietary behaviors in non-pregnancy human and animal studies, mediated in part by the appetite stimulating hormone ghrelin. Yet, the impact of prenatal stress on biological pathways associated with appetite in the context of pregnancy is not well understood. The objective of this study was to assess the relationship between these layered dimensions of stress with fasting and postprandial plasma ghrelin concentrations among Hispanic pregnant women with overweight or obesity, a population known to experience heightened levels of stress. Thirty-three non-diabetic Hispanic women with pre-pregnancy body mass index of 25.0-34.9 kg/m2 participated in a crossover study at 28-32 weeks' gestation. At each visit, participants provided fasting blood and saliva samples, consumed a standardized mixed-meal, and completed a 15-minute task: friendly conversation (control) or the Trier Social Stress Test (experimental stress exposure). Six timed blood and saliva samples were collected up to 2 h from baseline and assayed for ghrelin and cortisol, respectively, and area-under-the-curve (AUC) values were computed. Day-to-day stress levels were assessed by the Perceived Stress Scale. Physiological and psychological stress reactivity was determined by cortisol AUC and change in self-reported affect state, respectively, during the experimental stress visit. Maternal perceived stress was positively associated with ghrelin concentrations in the fasted (β = 0.06, p = 0.02) and postprandial state (β = 0.05, p = 0.02). Mean ghrelin AUC was not significantly different following acute stress versus control. Measures of acute stress reactivity were not associated with ghrelin AUC. Contrary to our hypothesis, among Hispanic pregnant women with overweight and obesity, exposure to an acute stress induction task did not alter postprandial ghrelin concentrations, and changes in individual psychological and physiological stress reactivity did not associate with postprandial ghrelin. However, our findings suggest that maternal report of general perceived stress over the last month is associated with higher fasting and postprandial ghrelin concentrations. Differences in the effects of short-term stress exposure versus day-to-day perception of stress on appetite and food intake in pregnancy deserves further investigation.

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