Energetic stress: The reciprocal relationship between energy availability and the stress response

Physiol Behav. 2016 Nov 1;166:43-55. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.10.009. Epub 2015 Oct 9.


The worldwide epidemic of metabolic syndromes and the recognized burden of mental health disorders have driven increased research into the relationship between the two. A maladaptive stress response is implicated in both mental health disorders and metabolic disorders, implicating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis as a key mediator of this relationship. This review explores how an altered energetic state, such as hyper- or hypoglycemia, as may be manifested in obesity or diabetes, affects the stress response and the HPA axis in particular. We propose that changes in energetic state or energetic demands can result in "energetic stress" that can, if prolonged, lead to a dysfunctional stress response. In this review, we summarize the role of the hypothalamus in modulating energy homeostasis and then briefly discuss the relationship between metabolism and stress-induced activation of the HPA axis. Next, we examine seven mechanisms whereby energetic stress interacts with neuroendocrine stress response systems, including by glucocorticoid signaling both within and beyond the HPA axis; by nutrient-induced changes in glucocorticoid signaling; by impacting the sympathetic nervous system; through changes in other neuroendocrine factors; by inducing inflammatory changes; and by altering the gut-brain axis. Recognizing these effects of energetic stress can drive novel therapies and prevention strategies for mental health disorders, including dietary intervention, probiotics, and even fecal transplant.

Keywords: Glucocorticoid; HPA axis; Metabolic dysfunction; Obesity; Stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Diseases / complications*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology


  • Glucocorticoids