Comfort food

written by Terry Robson

Lemon biscuits

Have you ever resorted to comfort food? Perhaps after one of these meetings where you had fantasies of pulling your own head off rather than hear one more report, you have dived for the box of chocolates in the office kitchen and found momentary soul resuscitation? More profoundly, perhaps you have been on the pointy end of an “it’s not you, it’s me” relationship ending conversation and turned for counselling to a tub of rocky road ice cream with Belgian chocolate? At some time or another everyone has turned to food for comfort but according to a new study how much comfort you get varies depending on your gender or even, if you are a woman, where you are in your menstrual cycle.

In the new study female rats were given twice daily access to a small amount of a sweet sugar drink for two weeks. Another group of female rats were given just water to act as control group. The rats were then given a stress test and the results showed that the female rats who had been given the sugar drink had less of stress hormone response (as measured by blood samples). However, the reduced stress response only occurred if the female rats were in the phase of their menstrual cycle when oestrogen levels are high, that is, around the middle of the cycle just before ovulation.

The rats were then given a stress test and the results showed that the female rats who had been given the sugar drink had less of stress hormone response .

Previous research in men has shown that two brain regions are important for stress relief; the basolateral amygdale and the prefrontal cortex. In these regions there were increased levels of the proteins FosB/deltaFosB and pCREB in response to sugary drinks in male rats, compared to male rats drinking only water. Female rats did show this change in FosB/deltaFosB levels but only when oestrogen levels were at their highest. In females levels of pCREB were not increased by the sugar drink at any time in the same way they were in males.

So a woman’s response to comfort food changes across her menstrual cycle and is different to a man’s response. Yet again we see that men and women are “same, same but different”.

 


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Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the editor-in-chief of WellBeing.