Israeli researchers announced they have found a genetic connection between stress and diabetes, offering some hope towards fighting a related problem: overeating.
“We showed that the actions of a single gene in just one part of the brain can have profound effects on the metabolism of the whole body,” including triggering hunger, Dr. Alon Chen told Xinhua on Monday. Chen is a senior researcher at Neurobiology Department of Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science.
Chen said he and his 20-person team of researchers discovered that a protein — releasing gene in the brain's hypothalamus region called Urocortin-3 (Ucn3), is responsible for inducing anxiety and strong metabolic changes, including type II diabetes in animals. Mice in lab tests showed signs of the first stages of this type of diabetes: their pancreas pumped out more insulin, while their muscles showed a delayed sensitivity to insulin.
“When it's secreted, it's activating two different brain regions,” Chen said. One region is related to your anxiety and fear level... and on the other hand will activate a region that is more related to metabolism.” And, Chen said, the effects can be seen throughout the body, including in the heart and muscles responsible for insulin sensitivity. That sensitivity can be a precursor to diabetes, a disease that studies say will strike some 360 million people worldwide by 2030.
While animals instinctively handle a stress threat in a predictable manner and then return to normal, humans are more unpredictable and vulnerable.
“It's not just causing anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder but is influencing metabolic syndromes such as obesity,” Chen said.
“In the lab, stressed animals eat less. But in human some eat more when stressed. What is key here is that food preference is changing,” he explains.
The purpose of the study was to understand the mechanisms, Chen said. — Xinhua