In what’s not likely news to those who use food for comfort during times of stress, a recent small study found that at least in regard to the over-consumption of sweet beverages, the sugary ones (and not the artificially sweetened ones), led subjects who were consuming them to lower levels of stress induced cortisol.
The study recruited 19 women without obesity to a parallel-arm, double-masked diet intervention with three phases:
- A 3.5 day in-patient pre-intervention where participants were provided a low-sugar baseline diet.
- A 12 day outpatient intervention where participants were instructed to consume one serving of either an artificially sweetened provided beverage or a sugar sweetened provided beverages (and they of course weren’t told which they were provided with) with each meal while not consuming any additional sweetened beverages
- A 3.5 day in-patient intervention where participants were provided with identical diets except for their assigned beverage differences
During the second day of each pre-intervention inpatient period, and after the 12-day outpatient intervention, participants completed an fMRI task designed to induce a stress response which included, “ a timed mental arithmetic task and negative feedback” that has been shown in the past to induce physiologic stress which is reflected in elevated cortisol levels and the activation of the limbic system (a part of the brain involved in emotion).
What’d the researchers find?
In what will come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever comforted themselves with sugary foods, the sugar drinking subjects were less stressed in that the consumption of beverages with sugar, but not with aspartame, decreased stress-induced cortisol production and led to greater hippocampus activation (an area of the brain inhibited during stress).
Now this was a small study, and limited just to sugar, but I’d bet that were this repeated, this time with a combination of sugar and fat (like the combo you’d find in Chunky Monkey for instance), you’d see an even greater response.
Food’s definitely not just fuel.