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Why Our Brains Crave Sugar in Stressful Times (and How It’s a Problem)

There’s a small study that suggests eating sugar can quiet stress signals in our brain. Whereas some of us like this feeling of de-stressing and therefore eat more sugar, this is not a healthy way to handle stress. Plus, it creates a habit that’s difficult to break.      

In the study, 19 women were given three drinks per day over a two-week period. The drinks contained either sugar, or a sugar substitute, like aspartame. The intent of the study was to use an MRI to see how the women’s stress levels were affected by sugar and sugar substitutes.

Prior to the MRI, the women were given impossible math tests (designed to cause stress) to do in their heads. After the MRIs were performed, the researchers had some interesting results. Sugar, not aspartame, created activity in a portion of the brain that reacts to stress. The women who had sugar had a lower amount of the stress hormone cortisol, and lower levels of stress.        

The MRIs suggest that sugar can interrupt the stress response in the hippocampus part of the brain, thus slowing down the stress hormone cortisol. This can explain how sugar can have a positive reinforcement on people with chronic stress.

As we all know, treating stress or any emotional problem with food is not healthy, as it often leads to overconsumption. An alternative is to exercise. Stress increases our nervousness, or gives us a “wired” feeling. The best advice is to burn it off, maybe go for a walk. If that’s not possible, try to distract yourself. Studies show that the craving for sweets only lasts for about 20 minutes during the peak of your stress, so keep your mind busy. Meditation, deep breathing, and–if you are hungry–healthy foods, are great ways to cope with stress, and the cravings for sugar.

Read the full article here: Why Our Brains Crave Sugar in Stressful Times (and How It’s a Problem)