If you're feeling stressed out, you might want to think twice before seeking comfort in junk food. A new study from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry has found that a stress-related protein could increase the chances of diabetes and obesity, but there's good news as well: blocking that protein could prevent those illnesses from occurring.

The protein in question is called FKBP51, and it helps regulate the body's stress system. When your body detects stress this system releases cortisol, a steroid hormone that helps with the fight-or-flight response. The problem is, certain mutations in the FKBP5 gene can change how the body responds to stress, and it's been implicated in certain psychological disorders such as PTSD, depression and anxiety.

Now, Max Planck scientists have found that these ill effects extend beyond the mental realm. The FKBP51 protein acts as a link between the stress regulatory system and the metabolism, and higher levels of the protein can reduce the body's ability to absorb glucose. That in turn can lead to diabetes and obesity. In a particularly cruel twist, the body regards excess fat consumption as stressful and releases even more FKBP51, which exacerbates the problem.

"FKBP51 influences a signaling cascade in muscle tissue, which with excessive calorie intake leads to the development of glucose intolerance, i.e., the key indicator of diabetes type 2," says Mathias Schmidt, lead researcher on the project.

But by the same token, the find may open up a new approach to treating diabetes. Flipping it around, the researchers suggest that blocking FKBP51 could prevent diabetes from developing, even if a person continues their high-fat stress diet.

Antagonist compounds that can pharmacologically block FKBP51 have been developed at Max Planck, and the researchers say they're currently improving on them for eventual use in clinical trials.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.