I've been under some stress lately. Not the minor kind that everyday life usually brings, like ferrying kids to and fro, working, or the usual frustrations of owning a house. I'm talking about the big stresses that can clobber us, whether good or bad. In my case, good, but still, immensely stressful.
Over the past week, the stress has intensified. And so has my desire to consume sweet things. Candy (handy that Halloween just happened). Cake (even with candy on top). More candy.
My reaction has been, What the...? I don't eat sweets. I don't even have a sweet tooth; I have a potato chip tooth. Don't care for chocolate, particularly, but there I am, nightly, squeezing chocolate syrup on top of my orange-iced ginger cake with ice cream and whipped cream.
First, this has me alarmed and has to stop for obvious reasons involving my figure. But second, it's got me wondering whether there's a link between stress and cravings for sugar.
Some poking around reveals that the answer is yes.
A study in the open access journal BMC Biology in 2005 found that rats who were stressed wanted to wolf down lots of sugar cubes because of high brain levels of a chemical called corticotropin-releasing factor - a stress hormone that humans also have.
The scientists concluded that stressed people might be more likely to crave things that made them feel good – like eating sugar or taking drugs.
OK, that helps explain why I want to eat nice-tasting sweets. But it seems I might as well just go straight for dark chocolate, if it's stress relief I'm after.
In a study released today, volunteers who said they were really stressed out ate dark chocolate for two weeks. When tested, scientists found reductions in stress hormones and other stress-related biochemical changes.
"The study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 grams (1.4 ounces) during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy human volunteers," the scientists said in the press release.
And then, after I've eaten my nightly cake with dark chocolate sauce on top, and regularly noshed on dark chocolate from the plastic pumpkin basket, I might just get hooked on sugar, which is bad.
Another study, presented in late 2008 at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology annual meeting, found that sugar is addictive to rats. Sugar binges changed the levels of the rats' brain chemicals that control how much they want and like something. When their sugar was taken away, the rats did pretty much whatever they could to get sugar again.
And we all know that if rats do it, humans probably will too.
I guess I'll have to start saying no to sugar again. But I wonder if a glass of chocolate wine and a little dark chocolate on the side will take care of my stress? At least it'll taste awesome.
Picture Credit: Lori Cuthbert