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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Chronic stress increases vulnerability to diet-related abdominal fat, oxidative stress, and metabolic risk.

  • Author(s): Aschbacher, Kirstin
  • Kornfeld, Sarah
  • Picard, Martin
  • Puterman, Eli
  • Havel, Peter J
  • Stanhope, Kimber
  • Lustig, Robert H
  • Epel, Elissa
  • et al.

In preclinical studies, the combination of chronic stress and a high sugar/fat diet is a more potent driver of visceral adiposity than diet alone, a process mediated by peripheral neuropeptide Y (NPY).In a human model of chronic stress, we investigated whether the synergistic combination of highly palatable foods (HPF; high sugar/fat) and stress was associated with elevated metabolic risk. Using a case-control design, we compared 33 post-menopausal caregivers (the chronic stress group) to 28 age-matched low-stress control women on reported HPF consumption (modified Block Food Frequency Questionnaire), waistline circumference, truncal fat ultrasound, and insulin sensitivity using a 3-h oral glucose tolerance test. A fasting blood draw was assayed for plasma NPY and oxidative stress markers (8-hydroxyguanosine and F2-Isoprostanes).Among chronically stressed women only, greater HPF consumption was associated with greater abdominal adiposity, oxidative stress, and insulin resistance at baseline (all p's≤.01). Furthermore, plasma NPY was significantly elevated in chronically stressed women (p<.01), and the association of HPF with abdominal adiposity was stronger among women with high versus low NPY. There were no significant predictions of change over 1-year, likely due to high stability (little change) in the primary outcomes over this period.Chronic stress is associated with enhanced vulnerability to diet-related metabolic risk (abdominal adiposity, insulin resistance, and oxidative stress). Stress-induced peripheral NPY may play a mechanistic role.

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