The stress hormone cortisol can predict whether certain individuals are likely to gain weight, according to scientists from Monash University.
In a new study published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, the researchers said the stress hormone is not only a predictive marker for people prone to obesity, but it also flags those who are likely to struggle the most to lose weight.
A simple two-hour test could determine whether individuals have high cortisol responses to an injection of a hormone (adrenocorticotropin) that stimulates adrenal gland secretion of the stress hormone. That could in turn allow doctors to help such people prevent weight gain, by designing targeted programs that include exercise, diet and stress reduction.
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Monash University researchers are now recruiting volunteers to test the approach.
"If we are able to predict who is most likely to end up obese — particularly in response to stressful events — then we can intervene early to prevent this as well as other complications associated with weight gain such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes," said researcher Belinda Henry, M.D.
She noted past research has shown most people overeat when under stress, but some are more likely to do so and have a harder time losing weight as a result.
"If a person is a 'high responder' to stress then they are more likely to eat themselves to obesity and are also likely to have more trouble losing that weight as their muscles are slow to burn energy," Dr Henry said.
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