Chronic stress increases vulnerability to diet-related abdominal fat, oxidative stress, and metabolic risk

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014 Aug;46:14-22. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.04.003. Epub 2014 Apr 13.


Background: In preclinical studies, the combination of chronic stress and a high sugar/fat diet is a more potent driver of visceral adiposity than diet alone, a process mediated by peripheral neuropeptide Y (NPY).

Methods: In a human model of chronic stress, we investigated whether the synergistic combination of highly palatable foods (HPF; high sugar/fat) and stress was associated with elevated metabolic risk. Using a case-control design, we compared 33 post-menopausal caregivers (the chronic stress group) to 28 age-matched low-stress control women on reported HPF consumption (modified Block Food Frequency Questionnaire), waistline circumference, truncal fat ultrasound, and insulin sensitivity using a 3-h oral glucose tolerance test. A fasting blood draw was assayed for plasma NPY and oxidative stress markers (8-hydroxyguanosine and F2-Isoprostanes).

Results: Among chronically stressed women only, greater HPF consumption was associated with greater abdominal adiposity, oxidative stress, and insulin resistance at baseline (all p's≤.01). Furthermore, plasma NPY was significantly elevated in chronically stressed women (p<.01), and the association of HPF with abdominal adiposity was stronger among women with high versus low NPY. There were no significant predictions of change over 1-year, likely due to high stability (little change) in the primary outcomes over this period.

Discussion: Chronic stress is associated with enhanced vulnerability to diet-related metabolic risk (abdominal adiposity, insulin resistance, and oxidative stress). Stress-induced peripheral NPY may play a mechanistic role.

Keywords: Abdominal adiposity; Metabolic syndrome; Obesity; Pre-diabetes; Psychological stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Fat*
  • Adiposity*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropeptide Y / blood
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*


  • Neuropeptide Y