Sweets may decrease production of glucocorticoid, a stress-related hormone that has been linked to obesity and decreased immune response, researchers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) have found.
"Glucocorticoids are produced when psychological or physical stressors activate a part of the brain called the 'stress axis,'" says Yvonne Ulrich-Lai, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychiatry.
"These hormones help an individual survive and recover from stress, but have been linked to increased abdominal obesity and decreased immune function when produced in large amounts," she adds.
"Finding another way to affect the body's response to stress and limit glucocorticoid production could alleviate some of these dangerous health effects," Dr. Ulrich-Lai suggests.
The laboratory findings were presented on November 15 at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, DC. Psychological and Physical Stress
Dr. Ulrich-Lai and a team of researchers from the department of psychiatry showed that when laboratory rats chose to eat or drink sweet snacks their bodies produced lower levels of glucocorticoid.
"The sweets we are talking about are not the low-calorie, sugar-substitute variety," says Dr. Ulrich-Lai. "We actually found that sugar snacks, not artificially sweetened snacks, are better 'self-medications' for the two most common types of stress -- psychological and physical."
Psychological stress could involve such things as public speaking, being threatened, or coping with the death of a loved one.
Examples of physical stress are injury, illness, or prolonged exposure to cold. No Weight Increase Observed
For the study, researchers gave adult male rats free access to food and water, and also offered them a small amount of either a sugar drink, an artificially sweetened drink, or water twice a day.
After two weeks, the rats were given a physical and psychological stress challenge. Following both types of stress, rats that had consumed the sugar drink had lower glucocorticoid levels than those that drank the water. Those drinking the artificially sweetened drink showed only slightly reduced glucocorticoid levels.
Although the researchers were not studying the health effects of the sweetened drinks, they did not see a body-weight increase in the rats consuming the sugar drinks.
The next step will be to determine how these sweetened drinks are decreasing glucocorticoid production, notes James Herman, PhD, co-author, professor and stress neurobiologist in the department of psychiatry.
"We need to find out if there are certain parts of the brain that control the response to stress," he says, "then determine if the function of these brain regions are changed by sugar snacking."
By Rita Jenkins
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