Pleasurable activity reduces stress by inhibiting anxiety

November 11th, 2010 - 11:11 am ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 11 (IANS) Be it food or sex, pleasurable activity actually reduces stress by inhibiting anxiety responses in the brain.

Experiments by Yvonne Ulrich-Lai, research assistant professor, James Herman, professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati, and colleagues indicated that the reduced-stress effects continued for at least seven days.

“These findings give us a clearer understanding of the motivation for consuming ‘comfort food’ during times of stress,” says Ulrich-Lai, according to the journal PNAS.

“But it’s important to note that, based on our findings, even small amounts of pleasurable foods can reduce the effects of stress,” Ulrich-Lai adds.

The researchers provided rats twice daily access to a sugar solution for two weeks, then tested their physiological and behavioural responses to stress, according to a University of Cincinnati statement.

Compared with controls, rats with access to sugar exhibited reduced heart rate and stress hormone levels even in restrained surroundings and were more willing to explore an unfamiliar environment and mingle with other rats.

Rats who were fed a solution artificially sweetened with saccharin (instead of being fed sucrose) showed similar reductions in stress responses, as did rats who were given access to sexually responsive partners.

But sucrose supplied directly to the stomach did not blunt the rats’ stress response, the researchers say.

“This indicates that the pleasurable properties of tasty foods, not the caloric properties, were sufficient for stress reduction,” says Ulrich-Lai.

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