Ample research has shown that stress is bad for our health. In a new NBC article, Dr. T discusses the evolutionary benefit of stress and its relation to modern-day work stressors. In regards to our health, she notes: “Research shows your brain lights up more in response to [high-fat and high-sugar] foods when you’re stressed. It prompts you to eat more and makes these foods taste even more delicious than usual.” Check out the full article here.
When we get stressed out, it can be easy to let exercise & physical activity fall by the wayside. Even though we know that exercise is great for us, and has more benefits than we could ever list – it takes a lot of effort, and we may not feel so inclined to get up and go to the gym around, say, final exams or deadlines.
However, a new study out of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany provides some convincing evidence that exercise really can help reduce exam-related stress. In the study, the researchers recruited 61 undergraduate students and randomly assigned them to participate in a 20-week exercise program that was timed to finish right around students’ final exams. The outcome variable examined in the study was heart rate variability (HRV), which is a measure of the small variations in time between heartbeats. According to Dr. Richard Sloan, a professor at Columbia University in New York, “the heart is happiest when it dances..it’s good to have a lot of heart rate variability.” As predicted, the researchers found that students who participated in the exercise program had HRV patterns indicative of lower stress levels than those of students who were not in the exercise program.
The study is closely related to research by DiSH collaborator Eli Puterman, whose lab at the University of British Columbia studies fitness, aging, and stress. In regards to this new study out of Germany, Dr. Puterman commented that “it’s really exciting to see an intervention that changes the physiological response to stress.”
We agree with Dr. Puterman – these results are very compelling! Exercise has so many benefits for health & well-being, we’re happy to see real-world evidence that it can help us control our physiological responses to stress.
Comfort eating is certainly delicious, but does it really comfort us? In a new paper recently published in Appetite, DiSH lab grad student Laura and Dr. T investigate whether or not comfort eating can actually decrease our perceptions of psychological stress. Specifically, they were curious to find out how comfort eating may function in depressed individuals. Using data from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study, Laura and Dr. T found that for non-depressed women, comfort eating did in fact buffer the perceived-stress impact of adverse life events, but for depressed women, comfort eating did not reap the same benefits.
Read the full study here!
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California, Davis and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service brings up an interesting finding that might help explain why it is so hard to break the soda habit; drinking sugar sweetened beverages can suppress cortisol and the stress response in the brain.
The effects of soda on stress was found only in sugary drinks, and not in diet beverages sweetened with aspartame, adding to previous evidence that indicates that sugar may help relieve stress in humans.
On every given day, about half of the U.S. population will consume one or more sugary drinks, the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention says. Since we know sugar overconsumption can have a detrimental effect on health it is important to understand more about people’s soda habits, and why they seem to be so hard to break. “The concern is that psychological or emotional stress could trigger the habitual overconsumption of sugar,” said Kevin D. Laugero, one of the study’s authors.
In the study, 19 women were randomly assigned to drink either regular soda or aspartame-sweetened soda three times a day for twelve days. Prior to and after the 12-day intervention period, the participants performed a math test that was supposed to trigger their stress response. The women’s cortisol responses were measured and their brains were scanned using fMRI.
After the intervention, the women who had been drinking regular soda showed diminished cortisol response compared to the women who had been drinking aspartame-sweetened soda. There were also differences in brain activity between the two groups, with the women in the experimental condition showing more activity in the hippocampus than the women in the control condition. The hippocampus is an area of the brain involved in memory, and is typically known to be less active when the body is under stress.
These findings offer new clues that help explain how sugar positively reinforces comfort eating when a person is stressed, Laugero said. “The results suggest differences in dietary habits may explain why some people underreact to stressful situations and others overreact”.
A lower stress response probably sounds like a good thing to many, but it is important not to go too far in either direction. A normal reaction to stress is vital for good health, and both over- and under-reactivity in neural and endocrine stress systems have been linked to poor mental and physical health.
If you want to know more about how sugar influences the stress response, check out the full article here!
Our very own Dr. T, along with Dr. McCurdy, staff psychologist with the UCLA Eating Disorders Program, were featured today in UCLA’s Health magazine! They discussed the role of psychology in obesity, in particular the implications of stigma and prejudice towards overweight people. What’s the relationship between who we think are unhealthy and who actually are unhealthy? What’s the role of stress in obesity?
Check out the interesting conversation here!
We are often told that in life it is the little things that matter, and this saying applies readily to health psychology. In two studies, one conducted right here in the DiSH Lab and another one in Sweden, it was found that using negative language and stigmatizing overweight individuals was directly correlated with weight gain.
Here in the DiSH Lab, a study was conducted recently which found that being labeled as “too fat” in childhood was a significant predictor of obesity in early adulthood (almost a decade later). In a related study in Sweden, researchers found that a significant increase in BMI was associated with individuals with severe obesity who were also stigmatized for their weight in the health care setting.
These studies underscore the idea that these “little things” like labeling and the language we use to describe others are not so little after all. Just being told you are overweight, or having your weight spoken about in a negative light, is correlated with weight gain in the future, and that doesn’t help anyone. In order to curb this problem, maybe it is time to start using more positive language and thinking about how what we say and how we act towards others really can affect them in the long run. In addition, more research being conducted on stigmas, body image, and the effects on weight could bring about very helpful information about how these issues relate to one another.
Blog by Aaron Lapidus
We are all guilty of using food for comfort at one time or another. But does comfort eating actually work? Amazingly, it really does!
In the words of Dr. T:
“Comfort-eating rats showed dampened biological stress reactivity in a stress system called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. Sustained over-activity of the HPA axis is associated with poor health, and these studies suggest that comfort eating is playing an important role in managing an organism’s stress levels.
The implications of this are enormous. If comfort eating functions in the same way in humans (the human literature is in its infancy, but my research and that of others offers preliminary evidence that comfort eating is associated with dampened HPA activity), then we need to substantially shift the way we think about stress eating.
Stress eating is currently treated like a villain, a negative health behavior that we should intervene to eradicate at all costs. The science of comfort eating, however, indicates that we may be engaging in this behavior for very good reasons, and that eating that brownie might mitigate the negative health effects of stress hormones—which may be even more harmful in the long-term than a few extra calories.”
The DiSH lab team traveled up to San Francisco this Wednesday to attend the American Psychosomatic Society (APS) 72nd annual scientific meeting! DiSH lab grad student, Laura Finch, presented a poster on “Emotional Eating Behaviors Buffers Psychological Stress in Black and White Girls” on Thursday. And our DiSH lab’s manager and incoming student, Angela Incollingo Belsky, will be presenting her poster on “Clues To Maintaining Calorie Restriction? Psychosocial Profiles of Successful Long-Term Restrictors” on Saturday. Also, before we forget to mention, Angela’s poster received a Newsworthy Abstract distinction! So congrats to our grad student and lab manager for representing and disseminating our lab’s research! Go DiSH lab!
Click the link here to see the PDF of the APS program and abstracts.
Dr. T is on a roll with the press!
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) website features our very own DiSH Lab Director, Dr. T, and acknowledged her recent Society of Behavioral Medicine’s 2013 Early Career Investigator Award (Congratulations too, Dr. T!). The award recognizes Dr. T’s paper on racial disparities in chronic psychological stress and body mass index (BMI) among girls between the ages of 10 and 19. The study looked into the disparities of 2,400 Black and White girls, and found that stress correlates with higher BMI levels. Furthermore, this correlation is more prevalent in Black girls than it is in White girls.
To read more about Dr. T’s interview with the Human Capital Blog, visit the original website.
Just a week ago, Dr. T presented at the Manhattan Beach Rotary club! Dr. T gave her presentation, “Can You Starve Yourself to Immortality…Or Will That Stress You Out?” and discussed the issues and facts regarding dieting and its association with stress.
Below is a picture of President Kathleen Terry presenting a 100 Polio Vaccinations certificate to Dr. T with the help of Ed Kushins taken from the original website.
Let’s give a big hand for Dr. T and her active involvement in community service!