Persistent psychological stress increases the risk of many chronic diseases of aging. Little progress has been made to effectively reduce stress responses or mitigate stress effects suggesting a need for better understanding of factors that influence stress responses. Limited evidence suggests that diet may be a factor in modifying the effects of stress.
However, long-term studies of diet effects on stress reactive systems are not available, and controlled randomized clinical trials are difficult and costly. Here we report the outcomes of a controlled, randomized preclinical trial of the effects of long-term consumption (31 months, ~ equivalent to 9 human years) of Western versus Mediterranean – like diets on behavioral and physiological responses to acute (brief social separation) and chronic (social subordination) psychosocial stress in 38 adult, socially-housed, female cynomolgus macaques.
Compared to animals fed a Western diet, those fed the Mediterranean diet exhibited enhanced stress resilience as indicated by lower sympathetic activity, brisker and more overt heart rate responses to acute stress, more rapid recovery, and lower cortisol responses to acute psychological stress and adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) challenge. Furthermore, age-related increases in sympathetic activity and cortisol responses to stress were delayed by the Mediterranean diet. Population level diet modification in humans has been shown to be feasible.
Our findings suggest that population-wide adoption of a Mediterranean-like diet pattern may provide a cost-effective intervention on psychological stress and promote healthy aging with the potential for widespread efficacy.