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Comfort Foods and Exercise Reverse Anxiety from Early Life Stress

Ingestion of a meal rich in carbohydrate is associated with improved mood.

Ingestion of a meal rich in carbohydrate is associated with improved mood and increased cognitive performance.

By Jayanthi Maniam and Margaret Morris

Stressful experiences during childhood can affect brain development, leading to increased anxiety and depression-like behaviours in adults, but this process can be reversed with diet and exercise.

Jayanthi Maniam is a PhD student with Margaret Morris, who is Head of Pharmacology at the University of NSW School of Medical Sciences. The research described in this article was published by the authors in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Early childhood experiences can have long-lasting impacts on behaviour later in life. Several studies have shown that children who are abused or neglected have a higher risk of developing psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety during adulthood. In addition, animal studies have demonstrated similar effects using a model of stress induced by separating pups from their mothers.

Extensive data both from human and animal studies demonstrate the stress-reducing effects of certain kinds of food, specifically those foods that are rich in sugar, fat and carbohydrate. Work from Prof Mary Dallman’s lab at the University of California, San Francisco showed that rats consuming such “palatable” food during a stressful period not only consumed more but had lower stress hormone levels compared with rats given no access to such food during the same stressful period.

A study from the Netherlands reported that human ingestion of a meal rich in carbohydrate increases the availability of tryptophan, which is the precursor of serotonin. This was associated with improved mood and increased cognitive performance.

Likewise, consumption of chocolate has positive effects on mood according to a range of studies, including one from Prof Gordon Parker from the University of New South Wales.

We know that stress alters signals to the brain via the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.