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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Nov 23;107(47):20529-34. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1007740107. Epub 2010 Nov 8.

Pleasurable behaviors reduce stress via brain reward pathways.

Author information

  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45237, USA. yvonne.ulrich-lai@uc.edu.

Abstract

Individuals often eat calorically dense, highly palatable "comfort" foods during stress for stress relief. This article demonstrates that palatable food intake (limited intake of sucrose drink) reduces neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and behavioral responses to stress in rats. Artificially sweetened (saccharin) drink reproduces the stress dampening, whereas oral intragastric gavage of sucrose is without effect. Together, these results suggest that the palatable/rewarding properties of sucrose are necessary and sufficient for stress dampening. In support of this finding, another type of natural reward (sexual activity) similarly reduces stress responses. Ibotenate lesions of the basolateral amygdala (BLA) prevent stress dampening by sucrose, suggesting that neural activity in the BLA is necessary for the effect. Moreover, sucrose intake increases mRNA and protein expression in the BLA for numerous genes linked with functional and/or structural plasticity. Lastly, stress dampening by sucrose is persistent, which is consistent with long-term changes in neural activity after synaptic remodeling. Thus, natural rewards, such as palatable foods, provide a general means of stress reduction, likely via structural and/or functional plasticity in the BLA. These findings provide a clearer understanding of the motivation for consuming palatable foods during times of stress and influence therapeutic strategies for the prevention and/or treatment of obesity and other stress-related disorders.

PMID:
21059919
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2996660
Free PMC Article

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