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Does Sugar Control Stress?

May 20, 2015 2 min read

It's been the busiest of busy days. You're phone is blowing up, you have to pick up your kids, the dry cleaning, drive in rush hour, make dinner. What happens next?  If you're like most of us, you're headed straight for the sweets. This isn't coincidence. A new study found that eating sugar actually helps control your stress response. It turns out that the feeling of relief you get after indulging in your favourite latte or chocolate bar is—literally - in your head. The research, just published in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found that when women drank a beverage sweetened with straight-up sugar, rather than sweetened with aspartame or not sweetened at all, their brains showed a decrease in stress, their cortisol levels were lower, and on top of it, the women reported that they even felt less stressed. This is the first evidence that high sugar (not aspartame) consumption may relieve stress in humans. When you're stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol, which increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Sweet treats inhibit this cortisol stress response by altering how the hippocampus (the part of your brain that controls how you respond to stress) deals with tough stuff. That being said, let's not make chocolate therapy a regular thing. This brain mechanism can cause eating sugar to become a vicious cycle: We eat sweets because we're stressed and then we're stressed because we overate sweets. That's a recipe for disaster. Instead of reaching for the candy the next time you get the stressful work email or the bad news text, take a quick walk. Exercise is one of the most powerful stress relievers we have.

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