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Stress? Walnuts and chia keep cortisol levels low

During periods of psychological or social stress, the hormone cortisol wreaks havoc with your body. We don't need to tell you anything about that. Just how ravaging the effects of work problems or relationship perils (two of the big stressors) are for you probably depends on the fatty acid composition of your diet. If you consume relatively high amounts of omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids the damage will be limited, biologists at the University of Vienna discovered.

The researchers did an experiment with guinea pigs, which first spent 20 days alone in a cage and then three days in a cage with other animals. Sharing a cage is stressful for guinea pigs and causes a rise in cortisol levels.

Some animals were given standard feed: the control group.

One experimental group was given standard feed plus peanuts containing above all monounsaturated fatty acids every day. A second experimental group was given chia, which contains relatively high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, and a third group was given walnuts. Walnuts are a good source of omega-6 fatty acids.

The human equivalent of the doses the researchers used would be 7-10 g per day.

During the days that the guinea pigs had to share a cage with other animals their cortisol levels rose.

Stress? Walnuts and chia keep cortisol levels low

Stress? Walnuts and chia keep cortisol levels low

The total amount of cortisol that the guinea pigs synthesised during the experiment was partly determined by the fatty acids in their diet. Supplementation with chia and walnut reduced cortisol production, but peanuts had no effect.

When subjected to social stress guinea pigs move less. The researchers also observed this in their experiment. Walnut supplementation cancelled out the reduction in locomotor activity however. The positive effect of chia was not statistically significant.

Stress? Walnuts and chia keep cortisol levels low

The research results suggest that the body needs both types of polyunsaturated fatty acids to fight stress.

"We finally conclude that dietary supplements high in poly unsaturated fatty acids can play a positive role in modulating behavioral and physiological stress responses in a social environment, and glucocorticoids may affect the plasma n-3 and n-6 fatty acid status, indicating an interaction of unsaturated fatty acids and [...] stress in guinea pigs", the researchers wrote.

PLoS One. 2014 Dec 31;9(12):e116292.

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