MURDOCH University is seeking participants for a novel study investigating the combined effects of psychological stress and obesity on skin function, following evidence that both factors are independently associated with potentially disabling nerve and microvascular damage.
Chief investigator Marie Sevastos from Murdoch University’s School of Psychology says “People who are obese have impaired bodily functions and there’s evidence to suggest that they may also have impaired skin function".
“These changes may have an impact on wound healing, body temperature regulation and pain processing, while also making limbs more vulnerable to injury.”
According to Ms Sevastos, emerging evidence suggests that these changes may result in a “pre-diabetic state of neuropathy” in which obese individuals may exhibit problems seen as a complication of diabetes.
“Impaired pain processing leading to increased risk of skin injury...is associated with foot problems seen in diabetic individuals,” she says.
“This can have a profound impact on quality of life.”
Psychological stress has also been shown to have similar physiological effects, but Ms Sevastos says the combined effect of obesity and stress on skin function has not been investigated.
“My aim is to see if here’s a synergistic effect—if you’re obese and also experiencing stress in everyday life, you may have a two-fold risk factor for not just neuropathy but cardiovascular risk factors as well.”
Inducing psychological stress using challenging arithmetic problems, Ms Sevastos, with her PhD supervisor Professor Peter Drummond, will assess several skin function parameters including sweat conductance and local blood flow, in both obese and non-obese participants.
The study will also examine the potential of simple guided relaxation techniques in combating the physiological effects of obesity and stress.
“We’ll be using a biofeedback device that guides the user’s breathing while giving feedback on the reduction in pulse rate and breathing rates, assisting in further reduction in their heart rate variability.”
“It could be a strategy for a reversal or reduction of the impairments in not just obese individuals but also other groups including diabetics.”
Ms Sevastos is currently recruiting female participants who are non-smokers, non-Diabetic and free of medications. The study will involve attending two testing sessions for which participants will receive monetary compensation for time and travel.