London: It's official. Stress drives people to comfort eating, says a scientific research.

Binging on sugary or fatty foods has long been thought to be connected to stress or anxiety. But until now, scientists have not been able to find a link. Now, a US team has found stress hormone ghrelin which causes comfort eating.

In their study, researchers at the University of Texas have found that levels of ghrelin increased during prolonged periods of stress and also appeared to fuel cravings for fatty food, the British media reported.

In fact, in experiments on mice, they found that an increased level of ghrelin brought on by stress increased the animals' appetite. The researchers studied the ghrelin levels of mice exposed to a variety of stressful situations that had free access to comforting chow.

Study's author Dr Jeffrey Zigman said: "Many people when stressed turn to high calorie 'comfort foods'. In our study, stress-induced food-reward behaviour was dependent on signalling by the hormone ghrelin.

"Insight into this could provide new targets for the development of drugs to curb this potentially detrimental behaviour."

He added: "The popular media and personal anecdotes are rich with examples of stress-induced eating of calorically dense comfort foods. Such behavioural reactions likely contribute to the increased prevalence of obesity in humans experiencing chronic stress or atypical depression."

The study has been published in 'Journal of Clinical Investigation'.

(Agencies)