Evidence suggests that people who are more responsive to psychological stress are at an increased risk of developing obesity. However, the biological mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are poorly understood. The cytokines leptin, interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) play a key role in fat metabolism and abnormal circulating levels of these proteins have been reported in obese people and in individuals subject to stress.
This study investigated whether cytokine responses to acute mental stress are associated with adiposity in healthy young women.
Design and Subjects:
A laboratory study of 67 women, aged 18–25 years, recruited from University College London.
Height, weight and waist circumference were measured and body fat mass was estimated by bioelectrical impedance body composition analysis. Laboratory mental stress testing was carried out and blood pressure and heart rate were recorded at baseline, during two moderately challenging tasks (Stroop and speech) and during recovery 40–45 min post-stress. Blood samples taken at baseline, immediately post-stress and 45 min post-stress, were used for assessment of circulating cytokines. Saliva samples taken throughout the session were assessed for cortisol.
Women who had larger cytokine responses to stress were more abdominally obese than women with smaller cytokine stress responses. Specifically, there was a positive correlation between waist circumference and stress-induced increases in plasma levels of leptin (r=0.35, P<0.05) and IL-1Ra responses (r=0.29, P<0.05). There was also a significant positive correlation between prolonged diastolic blood pressure responses to stress and measures of total and abdominal obesity (r=0.28–0.33, P<0.05).
Increased cytokine production could be a mechanism linking stress and abdominal obesity.
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The impact of acute stress on hormones and cytokines and how their recovery is affected by music-evoked positive mood
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This research was funded by the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK. We are grateful to Bev Murray for her involvement in data collection.
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Brydon, L., Wright, C., O'Donnell, K. et al. Stress-induced cytokine responses and central adiposity in young women. Int J Obes 32, 443–450 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0803767
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