Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Stress and Tummy Fat

Regular readers who have been following the hypothesis about what the heck happened to me were last told that it looked as if I had non-neoplasmic Cushing's syndrome. Certainly I had huge amounts of excess cortisol.

But maybe there's another explanation. From Science Daily :
Non-overweight women who are vulnerable to the effects of stress are more likely to have excess abdominal fat, and have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, a study conducted at Yale suggests.

While past studies have examined cortisol response in overweight women, this is the first study to show that lean women with abdominal fat have exaggerated responses to cortisol.
Cortisol affects fat distribution by causing fat to be stored centrallyaround the organs. Cortisol exposure can increase visceral fatthe fat surrounding the organsin animals. People with diseases associated with extreme exposure to cortisol, such as severe recurrent depression and Cushing's disease also have excessive amounts of visceral fat.

"Everyone is exposed to stress, but some people may secrete more cortisol than others, and may secrete cortisol each time they face the same stressor," Epel adds. "We predicted that reacting to the same stressors consistently by secreting cortisol would be related to greater visceral fat."

After the first exposure to stress, women with greater abdominal fat felt more threatened by the study's stressful tasks, performed more poorly on them, and secreted more cortisol. They also reported more life stress. By the third exposure to stress, the lean women with abdominal fat still consistently secreted more cortisol in response to stressful lab tasks, compared to women with peripheral fat.

"It is possible that greater exposure to stressful conditions or psychological vulnerability to stress has led them to overreact to stressors in their daily lives, so they have had greater lifetime exposure to cortisol," Epel said. "Cortisol, in turn may have caused them to accumulate abdominal fat. Genetics, however, also play a role in shaping reactivity to stress, as well as body shape."
So if I can just get over the stress of a slowly disintegrating marriage, my figure might look better.

Because one thing's sure: HBS causes levels of lifetime stress that are off the scale. Maybe that's what caused the huge levels of cortisol.

So much we don't know, so much we're guessing. But we'll get there in the end.

1 comment:

Calamity Jane said...

At last an answer to why my tummy is so fat - I always put it down to stress after a fashion ... compulsive eating when stressed, but now it seems there's no-kidding medical explanation for it.