Is Reducing Stress the Key to Weight Loss?

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Many of us make every effort to keep fit by following a healthy, balanced diet. But according to a new study, if you’re feeling stressed, all that healthy eating amounts to nothing.

Researchers from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre claim that healthy steamed chicken cooked in sunflower oil is just as harmful to your heart as deep fried chicken wings, if you eat it under stress.

Published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal, the findings highlight how our mental wellbeing can affect our physical health.

Dr Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, from Ohio State University, was lead researcher. She said the results prove that stress actually can interact with different food types.

Dr Kiecolt-Glaser has spent years studying the causes of inflammation, which can in turn lead to strokes, diabetes and heart disease. Her work has added to research that shows both high saturated fat diets and stress can hike up inflammation.

Now, Dr Kiecolt-Glaser is investigating whether high-fat diets and stress have an influence on each other. She looked into the topic during a broader study about cancer survivors with depression. Along with her Ohio State colleagues, she enlisted a group of women aged 53 on average. 38 of the women had survived breast cancer.

Each woman was randomly assigned one of two breakfasts. Both consisted of turkey sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy, but one was high in saturated fat from palm oil and the other used unsaturated fat from sunflower oil. The latter had a high concentration of anti-inflammatory oleic acid.

Without knowing which breakfast each woman had eaten, the researchers asked them questions about their levels of stress. Minor irritants weren’t counted as stressful, but many of the women had experienced taxing situations like dealing with a parent with dementia.

The researchers then took blood samples from the women and checked four different blood markers for inflammation. Women who ate the healthier breakfast had lower inflammation levels.

But no matter which breakfast they ate, women who’d had a stressful day had higher inflammation in all four blood markers.

Each breakfast contained 60 grams of fat and 930 calories, which is almost the same as a Big Mac and medium fries or a Double Whopper with cheese from Burger King. The researchers purposely chose a high-fat meal that was high in calories so it would imitate a fast food meal.

Co-author of the study, Martha Belury, is a human nutrition professor. She said the researchers knew that a less than healthy meal would have contrary effects on inflammation markers, but the team wanted to look at this particular type of meal with different kinds of fat.

All four harmful blood markers were raised in times of stress for the sunflower oil group, but stress didn’t seem to affect the readings for people who ate saturated fat.

The researchers have warned that this isn’t an excuse to eat whatever you want when you feel stressed. Dr Kiecolt-Glaser said that the study should show that we ought to eat healthily at all times and find better ways to manage stress.