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Sweet Relief: Comfort food calms, with weighty effect

The sweet and fatty foods that people often turn to in times of stress might in fact relieve anxiety. That's the good news in an innovative biological theory of people's responses to stress. The bad news is that for those with chronic stress, extra servings of comfort food come with potentially dangerous baggage–extra fat around the abdomen.

Chronic stress, such as financial worries, is less well understood than are intermittent bouts of acute stress. For example, scientists know that when a cat is suddenly attacked by a dog or a person prepares to give a speech, the adrenal gland pumps up production of stress hormones, including those known as glucocorticoids. When present at high-enough concentrations, glucocorticoids provide feedback to the stress-response system, eventually shutting it down.

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