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1.  Comfort food is comforting to those most stressed: Evidence of the chronic stress response network in high stress women 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2011;36(10):1513-1519.
Summary
Chronically stressed rodents who are allowed to eat calorie-dense “comfort” food develop greater mesenteric fat, which in turn dampens hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis activity. We tested whether similar relations exist in humans, at least cross-sectionally. Fifty-nine healthy premenopausal women were exposed to a standard laboratory stressor to examine HPA response to acute stress and underwent diurnal saliva sampling for basal cortisol and response to dexamethasone administration. Based on perceived stress scores, women were divided into extreme quartiles of low vs. high stress categories. We found as hypothesized that the high stress group had significantly greater BMI and sagittal diameter, and reported greater eating after stressful events. In response to acute lab stressor, the high stress group showed a blunted cortisol response, lower diurnal cortisol levels, and greater suppression in response to dexamethasone. These cross-sectional findings support the animal model, which suggests that long-term adaptation to chronic stress in the face of dense calories result in greater visceral fat accumulation (via ingestion of calorie-dense food), which in turn modulates HPA axis response, resulting in lower cortisol levels.
doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2011.04.005
PMCID: PMC3425607  PMID: 21906885
abdominal fat; cortisol; stress; stress eating; hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis
2.  The Calm Mouse: An Animal Model of Stress Reduction 
Molecular Medicine  2012;18(1):606-617.
Chronic stress is associated with negative health outcomes and is linked with neuroendocrine changes, deleterious effects on innate and adaptive immunity, and central nervous system neuropathology. Although stress management is commonly advocated clinically, there is insufficient mechanistic understanding of how decreasing stress affects disease pathogenesis. Therefore, we have developed a “calm mouse model” with caging enhancements designed to reduce murine stress. Male BALB/c mice were divided into four groups: control (Cntl), standard caging; calm (Calm), large caging to reduce animal density, a cardboard nest box for shelter, paper nesting material to promote innate nesting behavior, and a polycarbonate tube to mimic tunneling; control exercise (Cntl Ex), standard caging with a running wheel, known to reduce stress; and calm exercise (Calm Ex), calm caging with a running wheel. Calm, Cntl Ex and Calm Ex animals exhibited significantly less corticosterone production than Cntl animals. We also observed changes in spleen mass, and in vitro splenocyte studies demonstrated that Calm Ex animals had innate and adaptive immune responses that were more sensitive to acute handling stress than those in Cntl. Calm animals gained greater body mass than Cntl, although they had similar food intake, and we also observed changes in body composition, using magnetic resonance imaging. Together, our results suggest that the Calm mouse model represents a promising approach to studying the biological effects of stress reduction in the context of health and in conjunction with existing disease models.
doi:10.2119/molmed.2012.00053
PMCID: PMC3388136  PMID: 22398685
3.  Stress-induced obesity and the emotional nervous system 
Stress and emotional brain networks foster eating behaviors that may lead to obesity. The neural networks underlying the complex interactions among stressors, body, brain and food intake are now better understood. Stressors, by activating a neural stress-response network, bias cognition toward increased emotional activity and degraded executive function. This causes formed habits to be used rather than a cognitive appraisal of responses. Stress also induces secretion of both glucocorticoids, which increases motivation for food, and insulin, which promotes food intake and obesity. Pleasurable feeding then reduces activity in the stress-response network, reinforcing the feeding habit. These effects of stressors emphasize the importance of teaching mental reappraisal techniques to restore responses from habitual to thoughtful, thus battling stress-induced obesity.
doi:10.1016/j.tem.2009.10.004
PMCID: PMC2831158  PMID: 19926299
4.  Modulation of Stress Responses: How we cope with excess glucocorticoids* 
Experimental neurology  2007;206(2):179-182.
doi:10.1016/j.expneurol.2007.06.002
PMCID: PMC2795792  PMID: 17628543

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