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Foods activate stress hormones, affect behavior

/ 12:30 AM July 07, 2012

Anything that we ingest has profound physiological effects, some immediate, others over time. Food can also influence our behavior and emotions.

Here are some studies that could explain the link between what we eat and how we behave.

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High sugar diet = anti-social behavior

A study of 46 5-year-old boys showed that those with little sugar in their diets exhibited superior attention spans and more accurate responses than their high-sugar consuming peers. The study, described by preventive medical expert Neil Nedley, MD, author of “Proof Positive,” came out in Nutrition Review in May 1986 in an article titled “Associations between nutrition and behavior” by R. J. Prinz and D. B. Riddle.

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Behavioral symptoms

Dr. William Hudspeth of the Department of Behavioral Science and Psychiatry, School of Medicine in University of Nevada, Reno, has been researching the effects of sugar and hypoglycemia on human brain waves. He has demonstrated that sugar can cause a whole range of behavioral symptoms, including depression, hyperactivity and asocial behaviors.

In the book “Diet, Crime and Delinquency,” author Alexander Schauss said it has often been difficult to determine the amount of sugar in various processed foods. He urged buyers to read the nutritional labels on cans, boxes and containers. If the package label indicates sugar to be the first ingredient, this means that it is in greatest abundance in the food or beverage.

Our bodies were designed to eat foods, such as fruits and grains, in a natural, unrefined state. These foods help keep our blood sugar at a fairly constant level. Nedley said, however, that when refined sugary foods enter the digestive system, the blood sugar rises dramatically and the body reacts as if it were just exposed to a great volume of natural food. He said “unlike natural plant foods, foods rich in refined sugar tend to be quickly absorbed. The result is that the rapid rise in blood sugar is short-lived. With insulin still present and no more sugar coming in via the digestive tract, the blood sugar level can plunge.”

Not unusual

Nedley added that it is not unusual for the blood sugar to drop well below where it was before the sugary food was eaten. If the person’s blood sugar level falls low enough, frontal lobe functions (in the brain) can suffer due to inadequate fuel supplies.

Meat = impaired mental functions

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Arachidonic acid and large molecules in meat weaken the frontal lobe function of the brain. Nedley noted that arachidonic acid interferes with the manufacture and storage of acetylcholine, the important neurotransmitter extensively involved with frontal lobe functions. A study in Life Science (1996) titled “Effects of dietary phosphatidylcholine on memory in memory-deficient mice with low brain acetylcholine concentration” by T. Moriyama, K. Uezu et al. showed that a decrease in brain acetylcholine is associated with impaired mental functioning.

A single serving of meat can also increase production of a particular stress hormone called 17-hydroxycorticosteroid (17 HCS), Russian scientists have found out.

A liberal supply of fruits, vegetables and grains provides the best nourishment for the frontal lobe, as they contain a healthy quantity of carbohydrates. Every type of meat is devoid of carbohydrates. Nedley said that if one looks at the food tables, one would see a recurring theme—whether it be red meat, fish or chicken—they all score zero, or close to it, in the carbohydrate category.

Coffee overstimulation

It has been said that there’s a heavy price to be paid for stimulation. A Norwegian research project known as the Tromso heart study assessed 143,000 men and women and found a significant increase in depression in women who were heavy coffee drinkers (but not in men who drank similar amounts).

Women who drank excessive amounts of coffee also had more problems coping with stress. Nedley cited various studies linking caffeine and impaired brain functions. The effects may include psychiatric illnesses, impaired physical and mental performance, and may interfere with sleep.

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TAGS: blood sugar, coffee, food, health and wellness, stress hormones
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