Stress has long been associated with multiple health problems including heart disease, insomnia and depression, but a recent study conducted in collaboration between New York Medical College (NYMC) and the Biomedical Research Center of Slovak Academy of Sciences suggests that when it comes to your health, not all stress is created equal.
In the groundbreaking new study, Marcela Laukova, Ph.D., NYMC adjunct assistant professor of public health, and her Slovak team demonstrated that prolonged psychological stress switches the immune system’s function and triggers the pro-inflammatory response, which in turn may contribute to obesity and metabolic disease.
“It’s about the interplay between the local immune system and fat cells,” explains Dr. Laukova.
This new study comes on the heels of the previous studies by the same team, (Prior Repeated Stress Attenuates Cold-Induced Immunomodulation Associated with “Browning” in Mesenteric Fat of Rats, published in 2016), which revealed that prolonged exposure to cold temperatures (4°C) stimulates genes which turn white fat into brown fat—the “good fat” which is tied to higher metabolic rates.
In their first experiment, the team exposed rats to prolonged cold and discovered the rats’ fat tissue had experienced a “browning” effect. In the second experiment, a new group of rats experienced continuous psychological stress (known as immobilization stress) for seven days followed by an additional period of cold stress for seven days. When compared, the rats in the second experiment did not receive the same browning benefits as the first group, indicating that the prolonged psychological stress prevented the browning process.
“Our studies indicated that while the acute stress generally impacted the body, especially the immune system, in a positive way, when the stress was prolonged, the rats weren’t able to experience the positive benefits. But most importantly, it was the stress characteristics which mattered the most,” Dr. Laukova said.
Still in its early stages, this area of research paves the way for future breakthroughs that may aid in the fight against metabolic diseases including obesity. “Our team will use these findings as the foundation for additional research that will address the impact different kinds of stress have on health issues like obesity and metabolic syndrome,” Dr. Laukova says.