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Stress Removes the Benefits of a Healthy Diet

October 17, 2016
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If you’re having a stressful day, the benefits of a healthy meal may be canceled out. According to a recent study published by the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, stress eliminates the benefits of a healthier diet, and makes the body’s inflammation identical to a junk food diet. Lead researcher Janice Kiecolt-Glaser knew that an individual’s diet and stress levels affected inflammation in the body. Since chronic inflammation leads to health issues like diabetes, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis, Kiecolt-Glaser wanted to know how much of an influence stress has on inflammation. “We know that a less-healthy meal is going to have adverse effects on markers of inflammation, but we wanted to look at this meal type with different types of fat,” said co-author Martha Belury. The study involved 58 women around the age of 53, and had them eat a breakfast made by researchers. Participants also had to answer a “Daily Inventory of Stressful Events” questionnaire and have multiple blood drawings over two visits. 38 of the women in the study are breast cancer survivors, as research came from a parent study on high-fat diets, depression and cancer survivors. There were two types of meals served: biscuits and gravy made with saturated fat, and biscuits and gravy made with monosaturated sunflower oil. The meal was intended to mimic fast-food options, and contained 930 calories. That is almost identical to eating a McDonald’s Big Mac and medium fries. The women only ate one of the two options, and researchers were not told what meal the participant ate. After, the “Daily Inventory of Stressful Events” questionnaire identified the amount of stress experienced in the past 24 hours. 31 of the women studied were stressed at one of the two visits, 21 experienced stressors before both visits and six women identified no stressful experiences. “They’re not life-shattering events, but they’re not of the hangnail variety either,” said Kiecolt-Glaser. Kiecolt-Glaser is also a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University. In the blood tests, researchers were looking for two indicators of inflammation: the C-reactive protein and serum amyloid A. Cell adhesion molecules were also analyzed, as it predicts the likelihood of plaque in arteries. The results showed that a saturated meal spikes inflammation more than a sunflower oil breakfast. However, if a woman reported stress from the previous day, inflammation levels matched the saturated meal. With stress, a healthy breakfast ended up being just as unhealthy as a higher fat meal. While the study proves that stress can cancel out a healthy meal, Kiecolt-Glaser points out that it is not an excuse to eat unhealthy. The study advises against the consumption of unhealthy food, especially when under stress. If a healthy diet with stress is even to a junk food diet stress-free, a combination of junk food and stress could double inflammation levels. Health problems from body inflammation can build over time, so eating healthier can stall or cancel the process. Kiecolt-Glaser concludes that individuals should be eating healthy every day. That way, if stress arises, the body’s inflammation is starting at a lower, better place.
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