Studies find sugar limits production of cortisol in the brain, prompting dietary habit…
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Sugar overconsumption and chronic stress are growing health concerns because they both may increase the risk for obesity and its related diseases. Rodent studies suggest that sugar consumption may activate a glucocorticoid-metabolic-brain-negative feedback pathway, which may turn off the stress response and thereby reinforce habitual sugar overconsumption.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, tested this hypothesized glucocorticoid-metabolic-brain model in women consuming beverages sweetened with either aspartame of sucrose.
The parallel-arm, double-masked diet intervention study, used data from 19 women (age range 18–40 y) with a body mass index (range 20–34 kg/m2) who were a subgroup from a National Institutes of Health-funded investigation of 188 participants assigned to eight experimental groups.
The intervention consisted of sucrose- or aspartame-sweetened beverage consumption three times per day for 2 weeks. Salivary cortisol and regional brain responses to the Montreal Imaging Stress Task were measured.
Compared with aspartame, sucrose consumption was associated with significantly higher activity in the left hippocampus (P = .001). Sucrose, but not aspartame, consumption associated with reduced (P = .024) stress-induced cortisol. The sucrose group also had a lower reactivity to naltrexone, significantly (P = .041) lower nausea, and a trend (P = .080) toward lower cortisol.
The researchers concluded that, "These experimental findings support a metabolic-brain-negative feedback pathway that is affected by sugar and may make some people under stress more hooked on sugar and possibly more vulnerable to obesity and its related conditions."
- Sugar may interrupt the normal response to stress in the hippocampus, limiting production of the stress hormone cortisol.
- Cravings peak over 15 to 20 minutes and if delayed and distract yourself for that long the cravings start to come down on their own.
- The study is small and only included women. More research is needed to understand how sugar consumption might impact feelings of stress.
Matthew S. Tryon. Excessive Sugar Consumption May Be a Difficult Habit to Break: A View From the Brain and Body. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1210/jc.2014-4353. J Clin Endocrinol Metab April 2015.