Stress Undermines a Good Diet

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Chronic stress could block the benefits of a healthful diet, according to a study from the Ohio State University. In this study of 58 healthy women averaging 53-years-old, the researchers served them two separate breakfasts on two different days. The meals were similar except one breakfast was made with mostly saturated fat and the second breakfast contained mostly monounsaturated fats. The women completed interviews on the stressful events that had occurred the day before. In general, women free from stress had better blood test results with lower markers for inflammation after they ate the monounsaturated fat diet compared with when they ate the saturated fat-laden alternative. They also had lower cell adhesion molecules, a substance that increases the likelihood of plaque formation on blood vessel walls causing atherosclerosis and heart disease. However, when women had a stressful event prior to breakfast, they showed no benefits from the healthy meal. “They physiologically looked like they had eaten the high saturated fat meal,” state the lead researcher, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser.

In Perspective: There is a growing body of research suggesting that stress blunts the beneficial effects of a good diet. It is unclear why. It could be that a negative reaction to stress overwhelms the potential benefits of a healthy meal or it could be that stress alters the body’s processing of the meal. Saturated fat elevates inflammatory processes in the body, an underlying contributor to many diseases of aging. It is likely that the combined effect of stress and a poor diet is a one-two punch for disease.

Kiecolt-Glaser J, Fagundes C, Andridge R, et al: Depression, daily stressors and inflammatory responses to high-fat meals. Molecular Psychiatry 2016; September 20th.

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