Feeling stressed? reach for the sugar!

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Researchers are now saying that reaching for a sugary snack in times of stress may not be such a bad idea after all.

A team of researchers from the University of Cincinnati have found that rats who consumed sweet things had lower levels of the stress-related hormone glucocorticoid.

Glucocorticoid helps an individual survive and recover from stress, but it has been linked to obesity and a weakened immune system.

Researchers gave adult male rats free access to food and water and also offered them a small amount of sugar drink, artificially sweetened drink, or water twice a day.

It was found that the animals who opted for the sweeter option did put on weight.

After two weeks, the rats were given a physical and psychological stress challenge, and it was found that the rats that had consumed the sugar drink had lower glucocorticoid levels after both tests than those that drank the water.

Yvonne Ulrich-Lai, a psychiatrist who led the study, says the findings could be of use in reducing human stress levels, from physical causes such as illness or injury, or psychological causes such as public speaking or coping with the death of a loved one.

Dr Ulrich-Lai also says that finding another way to affect the body's response to stress and limit glucocorticoid production could alleviate some of the dangerous health effects.

She says that sweets made from sugar rather than artificial sweeteners, might be the answer as they found that sugar snacks, rather than artificially sweetened snacks, are better 'self-medications' for the two most common types of stress - psychological and physical.

Professor James Herman, who also worked on the study, says there is a need to find out if there are certain parts of the brain that control the response to stress, then evaluate if the function of these brain regions are changed by sugar snacking.

The British Dietetic Association, says though the research is interesting, more research is needed on on the effects of sugary foods and drinks on stress in humans, before drawing any firm conclusions, as it is unlikely that simply eating sugary foods will alleviate all symptoms of stress in humans.

The association does not recommend the excessive intake of sugary foods, but encourages a balanced diet that is low in fat, salt and sugar and has plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with keeping as active as possible.

The study was presented at the U.S. Society of Neuroscience's annual meeting.

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