New research suggests that soft drinks sweetened with sugar work to suppress the body’s stress response by curbing cortisol (aka the stress hormone). However, the same results were not reported for drinks sweetened with aspartame.
The findings stem from a recent study made up of 19 women between the ages of 18 and 40. According to the Endocrine Society, eight were assigned to drink aspartame-sweetened drinks over a 12-week period. The remaining 11 were assigned sugar-sweetened drinks. Close observation and analysis found that the women who drank the sugary beverages showed diminished levels of cortisol.
“This is the first mechanistic evidence that high sugar–but not aspartame–consumption may relieve stress in humans,” study author Kevin D. Laugero, PhD, said in a statement put out by the Endocrine Society. “The concern is psychological or emotional stress could trigger the habitual overconsumption of sugar and amplify sugar’s detrimental health effects, including obesity.”
Sugary drinks have been on the receiving end of criticism for some time. One 2014 study out of the University of California, San Francisco drew an association between sugar-sweetened beverages and accelerated cell aging. More recent research from Johns Hopkins University found that the chemical that gives soda its color also causes cancerous lung tumors in animals.
Perhaps the most obvious health concern related to sugary drinks is obesity, which the Endocrine Society says affects roughly 35 percent of adults in the United States. What’s more is that 17 percent of children in the U.S. are also obese. Researchers are concerned that if sugar-sweetened drinks do in fact curb stress, then more and more people will continue reaching for them.