Can Stress Undo the Benefits of Eating "Good" Fats?

A team including researchers from Ohio State University conducted a double-blind, randomized crossover study in an effort to address the impact of daily stressors and a history of major depressive disorder on inflammatory responses to high-fat meals. During 2 separate 9.5-hour admissions, 58 healthy women (38 breast cancer survivors and 20 demographically similar controls), with a mean age of 53.1 years, received either a high saturated fat meal or a high oleic sunflower oil meal.

The investigators relied on the Daily Inventory of Stressful Events to assess prior day stressors, and the Structured Clinical Interview for major depressive disorder based on criteria set forth in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition. As expected, for a woman with no prior day stressors, levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), serum amyloid A (SAA), intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (sICAM-1) and vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (sVCAM-1) were higher following the saturated fat meal than the high oleic sunflower oil meal after controlling for pre-meal measures, age, trunk fat, and physical activity.
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These meal-related differences disappeared, however, among women who had "prior day stressors," which heightened CRP, SAA, sICAM-1, and sVCAM-1 responses to the sunflower oil meal, making these responses more closely resemble those of women eating the saturated meal. In addition, women with a history of major depressive disorder demonstrated higher post-meal blood pressure responses than those without a similar history.

"Stress can change the way your body responds to food, and, no surprise, the changes are not good," said Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, and lead author of the study.

The changes Dr Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues studied occur in response to the particular kinds of fats in meals, and the authors modeled the meals eaten by study participants after typical fast food meals, she said, which are usually high in fat and calories.

"We would not expect that low-fat meals would have the same negative consequences," Dr Kiecolt-Glaser said. "So the take-home message might be to watch out for high-fat comfort foods when you're stressed. The consequences may not be so comforting after all."

—Mark McGraw


Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Fagundes CP, Andridge R, et al. Depression, daily stressors and inflammatory responses to high-fat meals: when stress overrides healthier food choices [published online September 20, 2016]. Mol Psychiatry. doi:10.1038/mp.2016.149.