Stress and diet have always been linked with each other. Certain food items are known to alleviate stress. Researchers have now found that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages can suppress the hormone cortisol and stress responses in the brain. But, diet beverages sweetened with aspartame do not have the same effect.
Kevin D. Laugero of University of California said, "This is the first evidence to show this. The concern is psychological or emotional stress could trigger the habitual over consumption of sugar and amplify sugar's detrimental health effects, including obesity."
Researchers examined the effects of consuming sugar- and aspartame-sweetened beverages on a group of 19 women between the ages of 18 and 40. They assigned eight women to consume aspartame-sweetened beverages, and 11 to drink sugar-sweetened beverages. The women drank one of the assigned beverages at breakfast, lunch and dinner, for a 12-day period. The study participants were instructed not to consume any other sugar-sweetened drinks, including fruit juice.
The researchers found that women who drank sugar-sweetened beverages during the study had a diminished cortisol response to the math test, compared to women who were assigned to consume aspartame-sweetened beverages. Also, the women who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages exhibited more activity in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is involved in memory and is sensitive to stress, than the women who drank aspartame-sweetened beverages.
Laugero said, "The results suggest differences in dietary habits may explain why some people under react to stressful situations and others overreact and although it may be tempting to suppress feelings of stress, a normal reaction to stress is important to good health. Research has linked over- and under-reactivity in neural and endocrine stress systems to poor mental and physical health."
The study is published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.