Just a spoonful of sugar helps the cortisol go down, and that's why people under stress may get hooked on the sweetener and suffer obesity and other diseases, a new study suggests.
Published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, the study found sugar-sweetened beverages can suppress the hormone cortisol and stress responses in the brain, but aspartame-sweetened beverages do not have the same effect.
Only the real thing
"This is the first evidence that high sugar—but not aspartame—consumption may relieve stress in humans," said study author Kevin D. Laugero, Ph.D., of the University of California, Davis, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service. "The concern is psychological or emotional stress could trigger the habitual overconsumption of sugar and amplify sugar's detrimental health effects, including obesity."
It could be a hard habit to break, researchers say. Half the U.S. population consumes sugar-sweetened drinks on any given day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sugary drinks are linked to obesity, which afflicts 35 percent of adults and nearly 17 percent of children, the Endocrine Society says.
Sugar: the comfort in food
The new findings offer clues to explain how sugar positively reinforces the temptation to eat comfort food when a person is stressed, Laugero said.
"Although it may be tempting to suppress feelings of stress, a normal reaction to stress is important to good health," Laugero said. Sugary food and drinks are a leading cause of obesity, which certainly does not increase well-being in the long run.
Jim Gold is a veteran journalist who splits his time between Seattle and the Bay Area.