Study Shows That Chronic Stress Can Increase Cravings For High-Caloric Food

In Education

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research has found that when stressed, people who eat comfort food, which is often calorie-dense, can cause neural changes resulting in cravings for these foods. When they indulge in these cravings, it can raise the risk of weight gain.

Chronic stress dampens signals from the lateral habenula

Researchers also found that chronic stress could override the brain’s satiety response. The brain instead sends alerts for the consumption of more comfort foods. This process occurs in the lateral habenula, a brain section that dampens reward signals.

According to Professor Herzog, a lead study author, chronic stress can override the brain’s impulse to reduce pleasure from eating. Instead, it receives rewards to continue eating. The researchers also discovered that high-calorie food and stress could increase food intake and the preference for sweet food. Ultimately this could lead to unhealthy weight gain and obesity. For this reason, it is crucial to maintain a healthy diet while under stress.

How researchers conducted the study

Eating patterns often change due to stress. Some people eat less, while others eat more. The latter often indulge in foods that are rich in calories. For this reason, the researchers wanted to understand what caused these eating patterns. They evaluated various mouse models and examined how their brains responded to different diets under stress.

Another study author, Dr. Kenny Chi Kin Ip, explains that the lateral habenula was active in mice engaging in a high-caloric diet. However, when the mice experienced chronic stress, this area became inactive, thus letting the mice stress eat. Eventually, these mice gained twice as much weight as those on a different diet.

The scientists also evaluated NPY, a molecule the brain produces during stress. They blocked the molecule, thus preventing it from activating the lateral habenula. As a result, the mice ate less comfort food and gained less weight.

The team also did a sucralose preference test where they let mice choose between plain and artificially sweetened water. Mice on a high-caloric diet were likelier to choose the latter, showing they craved sweetened foods.

This study concluded that stress can have detrimental effects on the body. As a result, it is crucial to keep a healthy diet despite the pressure.

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