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Hindustan Times
02 September 2010
Washington, DC USA

Comfort food is not a new notion, but a new study has said that stress on a daily basis can lead to over eating and consequently, obesity. A recent study conducted by the Departments of Psychiatry and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, examined the effects of stress on the meal patterns and food intake of animals exposed to the equivalent of everyday stress on humans.

The current study formed rats into colonies, composed of four males and two females, and matched with a control group. Within a few days, all colonies formed a hierarchy that established the dominance of one male and the subordination of the other three males.

Results showed that once the hierarchy was stable, the dominant rats recovered their food intake relative to the control animals, while the subordinate rats continued to eat less by reducing their number of meals.

Furthermore, although rats are nocturnal animals, the subordinate rats ate primarily during lighted periods, indicating a shift in circadian behaviour.

After two weeks, the male rats were individually housed for a three-week recovery period and allowed to eat freely.

The dominant rats gained weight and lean mass, but only as comparable to the control group, while the subordinate rats gained significant fat in the visceral (belly) region. Throughout the recovery period, subordinate rats continued to overeat, eat longer meals and gain fat, suggesting long–term, deleterious metabolic changes.

Interestingly, the study results suggest that the signals controlling ingestive behaviour become impaired or are overridden during social stress.

The findings reveal that if, following stress, we consume larger and less frequent meals, the conditions are favourable for weight gain–especially in the abdomen.

Their study was published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.

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