A new study has revealed that high sugar, but not aspartame consumption may relieve stress in humans.
As per the study, 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.
University of California's Kevin D. Laugero said that this is the first evidence to show this, adding that the concern is psychological or emotional stress could trigger the habitual overconsumption of sugar and amplify sugar's detrimental health effects, including obesity.
The parallel-arm, double-masked diet intervention study examined the effects of consuming sugar- and aspartame-sweetened beverages on a group of 19 women between the ages of 18 and 40.
The researchers assigned eight women to consume aspartame-sweetened beverages, and 11 to drink sugar-sweetened beverages. For a 12-day period, the women drank one of the assigned beverages at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The participants were instructed not to consume other sugar-sweetened drinks, including fruit juice.
The researchers found 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.
In addition, 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.
He said that the results suggest differences in dietary habits may explain why some people underreact 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 appears in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.