Expert Commentary: Dr. Elliot Goodman M.D. - June 4, 2009

Posted by Admin on June 4, 2009
We often hear about the physical causes and effects of obesity, but we rarely hear about the emotional and psychological factors. Today, obesity is no longer diagnosed only during middle age - it's becoming the norm to hear that young people in their 20's are dealing with the disease. Obviously, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to the onset of obesity, but what's going on behind the scenes? We know that overeating is the main cause of obesity, but few know what leads to this increase in food intake. The answer is simple: stress. Many young people today live a hectic lifestyle full of stress and anxiety. To cope with the constant physical and emotional drain, many people turn to one of life's simplest pleasures: food.

Stress can also trick you into feeling hungry even though you've just ate. Many turn to fast food and chain restaurants because they offer a "satisfying" meal with serving potions that include fat, sugar, and salt in quantities 700 percent larger than what is recommended by dieticians and nutritionists.

Stress and obesity appear to go hand in hand. Stress can increase cortisol production and appetite, two weight gain factors. Gaining weight can compound feelings of stress and contribute to emotional anxiety. So it's not surprising that over the past two decades, both stress and obesity rates have increased at alarming rates.

Clearly, the only way out of the dilemma is to break the cycle. We all know that diet and exercise help control a person's weight. Well, guess what? They also help control stress. Cut back on those the fat and sugar laced snacks and hit the gym or exercise mat. Don't use the excuse, "I don't have enough free time to exercise". Make time - you'll get a return after consistent weekly aerobic activity improves your quality of sleep, mental acuity, and general sense of well-being.

But I know this talk of changing one's diet and exercise lifestyle is easier said than done. For those of us who need it, help may be on the way. Researchers have found a molecule released by the body during stress called NPY (neuropeptide Y). The molecule appears to unlock receptors in fat cells, positively affecting their growth in size and numbers.

Once researchers have found a way to block these Y2 receptors, they claim that they may be able to eventually develop new drugs to combat stress-related obesity.

"We have known for over a decade that there is a connection between chronic stress and obesity," Herbert Herzog, PhD, of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, says in a news release. "We also know that NPY plays a major role in other chronic stress-induced conditions, such as susceptibility to infection. Now we have identified the exact pathway, or chain of molecular events, that links chronic stress with obesity."

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