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Dieting May Raise Cortisol Levels, Leading to Weight Gain

Last Updated: April 29, 2010.

Monitoring and cutting calories may result in psychological and biological stresses in women, along with an increase in cortisol production and related weight gain, which should be considered before clinicians recommend dieting, according to a study published online April 5 in Psychosomatic Medicine.

THURSDAY, April 29 (HealthDay News) -- Monitoring and cutting calories may result in psychological and biological stresses in women, along with an increase in cortisol production and related weight gain, which should be considered before clinicians recommend dieting, according to a study published online April 5 in Psychosomatic Medicine.

A. Janet Tomiyama, Ph.D., of the University of California in San Francisco, and colleagues randomly assigned 121 women to one of four dietary interventions for three weeks: caloric monitoring and restriction to 1,200 kcal/day, caloric monitoring and normal eating, caloric restriction to 1,200 kcal/day with no monitoring, or no monitoring and normal eating (control). Before and after the intervention, the subjects were tested for stress on the Perceived Stress Scale and cortisol was measured via saliva sampling.

The researchers found that there was a small to medium increase in perceived stress among the women who monitored their caloric intake but not in those who restricted their caloric intake. No interaction between the two factors was observed. There was a medium increase in cortisol in the group restricting but not in the group monitoring caloric intake, but no interaction of the factors.

"Regardless of diet success or failure, if dieting is shown in future studies to reliably increase stress and cortisol, clinicians may need to rethink recommending dieting to their patients to improve health. Chronic stress, in addition to promoting weight gain, has been linked with a host of negative health outcomes such as atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and impaired immune functioning," the authors conclude.

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