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Metabolism. 2012 May;61(5):611-9. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2011.10.005. Epub 2011 Dec 5.

Metabolic consequences of stress during childhood and adolescence.

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First Department of Pediatrics, Athens University Medical School, Aghia Sophia Children's Hospital, 11527 Athens, Greece.


Stress, that is, the state of threatened or perceived as threatened homeostasis, is associated with activation of the stress system, mainly comprised by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the arousal/sympathetic nervous systems. The stress system normally functions in a circadian manner and interacts with other systems to regulate a variety of behavioral, endocrine, metabolic, immune, and cardiovascular functions. However, the experience of acute intense physical or emotional stress, as well as of chronic stress, may lead to the development of or may exacerbate several psychologic and somatic conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, obesity, and the metabolic syndrome. In chronically stressed individuals, both behavioral and neuroendocrine mechanisms promote obesity and metabolic abnormalities: unhealthy lifestyles in conjunction with dysregulation of the stress system and increased secretion of cortisol, catecholamines, and interleukin-6, with concurrently elevated insulin concentrations, lead to development of central obesity, insulin resistance, and the metabolic syndrome. Fetal life, childhood, and adolescence are particularly vulnerable periods of life to the effects of intense acute or chronic stress. Similarly, these life stages are crucial for the later development of behavioral, metabolic, and immune abnormalities. Developing brain structures and functions related to stress regulation, such as the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the mesocorticolimbic system, are more vulnerable to the effects of stress compared with mature structures in adults. Moreover, chronic alterations in cortisol secretion in children may affect the timing of puberty, final stature, and body composition, as well as cause early-onset obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. The understanding of stress mechanisms leading to metabolic abnormalities in early life may lead to more effective prevention and intervention strategies of obesity-related health problems.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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