Sugar Reduces Levels of Stress Hormone Better Than Aspartame, Researchers Find

In a 2-week study, researchers found that sugar intake produced greater stress control in subjects than an artificial sweetener

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Simple table sugar was associated with lowered cortisol levels, while aspartame was not.  

Sugar is a more effective reducer of stress than the artificial sweetener aspartame, suggests a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

For 12 days, scientists observed the beverage intake of 19 women who volunteered for the study.

During that time, eight women consumed three beverages per day that were sweetened with aspartame — which will soon not include Diet Pepsi — and the rest drank an identical beverage with 25 percent sucrose, or table sugar.

Researchers measured the amount of cortisol present in the participants’ saliva before and after the experiment, and even purposely increased levels of the stress hormone beforehand by conducting a known stress inducer known as the Montreal Imaging Stress Test (MIST) — consisting of a set of arithmetic challenges manipulated to be just beyond the individual's mental capacity — during which time subjects also underwent fMRI scans.

In tests before the two-week diet, the groups showed no differences between relative stress levels. Afterward, however, levels of cortisol were lower in the group whose beverages contained real sugar. Follow-up fMRI scans also showed increased activity in hippocampus, which controls fear and stress, in the sucrose group, and decreased activity in that region for the aspartame group.

Though the study’s authors insist that the data does not imply that sugar should be used as a stress reducer, the findings do suggest that people under stress may become “more hooked on sugar and possibly more vulnerable to obesity and its related conditions.”

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