Chronic inflammation can cause many health problems, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Both stress and an unhealthy diet can cause inflammation in the body, which inspired researchers to find out which one is worse for overall health.
What research was done?
Researchers from the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center conducted a study on 58 women, 38 of which were breast cancer survivors.
The purpose of the study was to find out how saturated fat and stress are related to health. Over the course of two different days, each participant was given one of two meals containing either saturated fat or healthy fat known as monounsaturated fat. The meals consisted of biscuits and gravy, one option made with healthy fats like sunflower oil and the other with unhealthy fats such as cream and fatty meat. Blood samples were taken throughout the day and questionnaires about stress levels were filled in.
Previous studies found a link between high-fat diets and depression, especially in cancer survivors, which is why these particular candidates were included in the study.
How were stress levels measured?
The Daily Inventory of Stressful Events Questionnaire took into account every stressor from the previous day, which ranged from cleaning up paint that a child had spilled on the floor to assisting a parent with dementia who resisted help. Minor irritants were not included as stressful events.
Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, the lead author of the study and a professor of psychiatry and psychology, said: “They’re not life-shattering events, but they’re not of the hangnail variety either.”
What were the results?
Four markers were taken into account: two for inflammation, and two that help to predict the risk of plaque forming in the arteries of the cardiovascular system.
When participants were not under stress, all four markers were higher for those who had the unhealthy meal than for those who had the healthy one, which clearly demonstrated the negative impact that poor nutritional choices have on overall health.
However, when stress was experienced the previous day, there was no difference between the results of the two meals, which exposed the shocking truth that stress is just as bad as an unhealthy meal when it comes to health! Interestingly, the reading for those who ate the bad fat did not change after stress, but researchers warn that this does not give people a license to eat whatever they desire in a state of stress.
The findings were published in the Molecular Psychiatry Journal and researchers believe that it’s the first study to show that stress could actual cancel out the positive effects of a healthy diet.
Researchers have clearly demonstrated that stress and an unhealthy diet are equal contributors to increasing the risk of disease, which is why it’s important to make healthy nutritional choices as often as possible.
That way, when stress arises, you’ll be in a better physical state to deal with it and can avoid the build-up of chronic inflammation over time.
Researchers also advised against eating unhealthy foods when under stress, even though inflammation would already be at its peak during stressful times. In this regard, two wrongs definitely do not make a right!