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Stress Causes the Release of an ‘Overeating’ Protein in the Body

posted 09:44 AM EST, Mon May 10, 2010
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People tend to gain a little weight during times of stress – there’s just something about anxiety that seems to have us reaching for fatty and sugary ‘comfort’ foods. Now, scientists in Israel say think they now why; they’ve isolated a gene that causes the release of a protein called Ucn3, and high levels of this protein in the body affects us by changing the foods we crave, and eat.

Ucn3 is a protein that has effects on the heart, liver, pancreas and other organs, and also affects appetite and cravings for certain foods, specifically sugary and fatty ones. Israeli researchers say that in times of stress, we release extra UCn3 – which helps to explain why chronic stress can lead to obesity.

In a controlled experiment, mice forced to produce extra Ucn3 quickly developed the initial symptoms of diabetes.

Lead researcher Dr Alon Cheng, of the Weizmann Institute explained that the stress caused release of Ucn3 makes sense in certain situations when the body needs quick sugary fuel, saying, “Stress is good when you have to cope with an event, like when you meet a lion. Your metabolism is changing, you consume more sugars and more glucose goes to the muscles to help you escape the lion.” But when stress becomes chronic, he explains, the continual release of a hunger stimulating protein can lead to obesity and diabetes and other debilitating conditions.

The researchers say that drugs that could reduce this Ucn3 release might prove effective as medications against obesity.

Dr. Cheng summed up his work by saying, "Stress is definitely influencing every system in the body. It's not just causing anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder but is influencing metabolic syndromes such as obesity…In essence, stress may be turning us fat."

The full research results can be examined in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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  • Stress: Causes the release of a brain protein that causes us to crave fatty and sugary foods.
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