LONDON — Feeling constantly stressed may lead to you packing on significant and dangerous number of pounds a new study finds.
With their findings recently published in the journal Obesity, researchers at University College London looked at the level of cortisol— a stress hormone— in the strands of hair of over 2,500 British men and women over the age of 54.
Other studies had examined cortisol levels in blood, saliva, and urine, all of which were considered to be less accurate and stable ways of measuring the hormone.
For the study, researchers cut hair as close to the scalp as possible, allowing for the examination of about two months’ worth of cortisol. They also measured the weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference of the participants.
What the researchers found was that those who had more cortisol in their hair tended to be heavier, have a larger waist circumference, and have a larger BMI.
“These results provide consistent evidence that chronic stress is associated with higher levels of obesity,” notes Sarah Jackson, the study’s lead researcher, in a university release.
Being overweight doesn’t just make you look less attractive; “carrying excess fat around the abdomen is [also] a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and premature death,” Jackson warns.
Some have noted that this study is limited in two respects: all of its participants were Caucasian, not to mention more advanced in age. A more representative sample could demonstrate different findings.
Still, this study paves the way for a new, objective method for finding elevated stress levels. However, it could also show that cortisol levels should be a prime focus for scientists looking to treat obesity.