Is There A Link Between Anxiety And Weight Loss?

By Beth Leipholtz 01/25/19

Recent findings may make developing drugs to treat obesity and anxiety much easier.

a person with anxiety noticing their weight loss

New research on mice suggests that there is a connection between anxiety and burning fat. 

According to New Atlas, researchers say the connection comes from a molecule that seems to connect the two. Researchers believe these findings could aid in developing drugs for managing both anxiety and obesity. 

The research was conducted by scientists at Florida's Scripps Research Institute and carried out on mice. Researchers focused on a molecule called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is known to “promote the growth and function of brain cells and recent research has linked it to schizophrenia, memory and experimental Alzheimer's treatments.”

Baoji Xu, a Scripps Institute obesity researcher, says that in observing certain mice that were engineered to lack the BDNF molecule, she noticed another potential function of it.

She notes that just like with humans, there was a connection between times of stress and anxiety and weight loss in mice, even when the mice were specifically given a diet intended to lead to weight gain.

"Even on a high-fat diet, these mice were really lean," Xu said, according to New Atlas. "Could the same thing be happening in humans?"

To fully understand this connection, researchers adjusted their study in an attempt to learn more. 

In order to do so, researchers needed BDNF to be working in certain parts of the brain, but not in other parts. So they first eliminated the BDNF gene in the brain's cortex, hippocampus and amygdala regions, according to New Atlas.

After doing so, the mice still displayed anxiety symptoms. Upon further study, researchers found that the elimination of BDNF was impacting the neurotransmitter GABA, which has to do with slowing signals in the brain and creating a sense of relaxation. 

In studying the BDNF-less mice, researchers determined that they had an “elevated basal metabolic rate,” which means they were “expending more energy just to keep their anxious bodies in working order,” according to New Atlas.

It was also discovered that the mice produced more brown fat, which is a type of fat that burns energy to create body warmth. 

Though the results of this study could prove helpful in creating drugs to treat anxiety and weight loss, there will have to be more thorough research conducted first. However, researchers are still hopeful based on these preliminary results. 

"We've found a relationship between anxiety and weight loss," says Xu. "This research could guide new therapies for anxiety and help researchers design treatments for obesity."

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.