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Social stress can cause belly fat

August 7, 2009 9:07:59 AM PDT
Social stress can trigger the body to collect more belly fat, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease, according to a new study from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.Researchers studied social stress among monkeys and whether it influences the development of heart disease. Female monkeys were fed a Western-style diet high in fat and cholesterol. Then, the monkeys were housed in groups so they would form a pecking order in which dominant and subordinate personalities would emerge.

Subordinate monkeys are often the target of aggression. Researchers discovered that such socially stressed subordinate monkeys developed more fat in the belly region. Excess abdominal fat can hasten the buildup of harmful plaque in blood vessel, thus putting more stress on the heart.

The study blames stress hormones for the increase in the deposit of fat in the belly. The harmful hormones were released because of the stress of social subordination.

"We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic," said Carol A. Shively, a professor of pathology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in a news release. "Much of the excess fat in many people who are overweight is located in the abdomen, and that fat behaves differently than fat in other locations. If there's too much, it can have far more harmful effects on health than fat located in other areas."

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal Obesity.

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