Scientists may have found the reason why we consume sugar when we’re stressed out. A new study by researchers at the University of California, Davis found that those who consumed drinks sweetened with sugar had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their system, when compared with those who drank beverages containing the artificial sweetener aspartame.
In the experiment, women were given sucrose or aspartame-sweetened drinks three times a day for two weeks. Then, they were asked to take several math problems. Using MRI scans, the researchers found that those who drank sucrose beverages had lower levels of cortisol—a hormone that the body releases when under stress—than those who drank aspartame beverages.
Scientists also found that sucrose inhibited stress-related activity in the brain’s hippocampus, but not aspartame, according to the study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
The study authors concluded that sugar’s “stress-dampening effects” may lead people who are under stress to consume more sugar, and become vulnerable to sugar-related diseases like obesity and diabetes.
The findings are among the first definitive evidence that sugar is linked to reduced levels of stress in humans, the authors said.
Other studies have shown the negative health effects of aspartame, such as brain damage among rats that were given the sweetener at 50 percent above the FDA-approved levels for human consumption.
(*Woman eating ice cream image via Shutterstock)