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Stress could be obesity trigger says new report

By Colin Ricketts - 15 Aug 2011 18:56:9 GMT
Stress could be obesity trigger says new report

Brain researchers have found a link between stress and eating that they think may play a role in human obesity.

The team from the University of Calgary's Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) found the link while carrying out research on rats and have published their results this week in the online journal Neuron.

Appetite under normal circumstances is controlled by chemicals called endocannabinoids in the brain. The BHI team found that when food was missing in stressed conditions the brain is temporarily rewired and this change in the brain may impair endocannabinoids' ability to control appetite in the longer term.

The team also blocked stress hormones from affecting their subjects and found that when the rats were then kept away from food there was no similar change to the brain's make up.

Researchers Jaideep Bains, Ph.D. and Quentin Pittman, Ph.D., led the research looking at the hypothalamus, which helps control appetite and metabolism and is the home of the brain's stress response.

"These findings could help explain how the cellular communication in our brains may be overridden in the absence of food," Bains said. "Interestingly, these changes are driven not necessarily by the lack of nutrients, but rather by the stress induced by the lack of food."

The pair believe their work will have an impact on human medicine.

"For example, if we elect to pass over a meal, the brain appears to simply increase the drive in pathways leading to increased appetite," said Pittman. "Furthermore, the fact that the lack of food causes activation of the stress response might help explain the relationship between stress and obesity."

"One thing we can say for sure, is that this research highlights the importance of food availability to our nervous system. The absence of food clearly brings about dramatic changes in the way our neurons communicate with each other," said Pittman.

Top Image Credit: © JP Nel