Stress influences brain, self-control, food options

Stressed individuals value more food’s taste over its health benefits

RESEARCHERS FROM University of Zurich in Switzerland have a new study demonstrating the connection of stress and self control and the effects of stress and self -control interacting in human brain operates through multiple neural pathways, according to lead author Silvia Maier.

“Self-control abilities are sensitive to perturbations at several points within this network,” she explains, “and optimal self-control requires a precise balance of input from multiple brain regions rather than a simple on/off switch.”

The decision-making process affects individual’s ability to demonstrate self-control. That is why necessary quick-thinking often makes an environment stressful, making the person compromise to exhibit self-discipline.

To investigate, the researchers assessed 29 participants and evaluated by an experimenter while their hands are immersed in cold water for three minutes. This treatment will induce a moderate level of stress as the participants choose between a tasty but unhealthy option and a healthy but less tasty option.

Since each person is different and unique in taste, the study asks the participant’s taste ratings on a large set of foods beforehand. “We then customized a set of foods for each participant in the experiment that covered a wide spectrum of taste and health trade-offs” Maier explained.

The researchers also conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI that scans the brain activity.

As a result, participants subjected to stress-inducing triggers were more likely to value a food’s taste over its health benefits when choosing what to eat compared with participants who were not stressed.

The brain increased connectivity between ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) region and the amygdala and striatal regions—regions associated with perceiving tastiness. On the other hand, reduced connectivity was also observed between vmPFC region and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex regions—regions associated with successfully exhibiting self-control.

However, only some of these connectivity changes were associated with cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. Ma.Vanessa L. Estinozo with a Medical News Today report

Vital Signs Issue 78 Vol. 4, August 1-31 2015