Effect of sugar administration on cortisol responses to acute psychosocial stress

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2020 May:115:104607. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2020.104607. Epub 2020 Feb 8.


Sugar administration prior acute psychosocial stress exposure was shown to enhance subsequent salivary cortisol responses. However, this finding is based on studies that have administered high doses of glucose to male subjects after long fasting periods. Therefore, in the present study, we investigated the effect of different sugar-containing drinks on acute cortisol stress responses under experimental conditions that are commonplace in stress research and our sample included females and males. Our primary aim was to derive feasible recommendations for a standardized sugar administration in future studies. Of the 103 healthy young participants (49 females, 54 males), 72 were confronted with the Trier Social Stress Test after being randomly assigned to one of three sugar conditions (200 ml of grape juice, a 75 g glucose or a 75 g maltodextrin drink); 31 subjects served as control sample and were exposed to the TSST without sugar administration. Cortisol stress responses were significantly enhanced in the grape juice as well as the glucose group as compared to the control group. Post hoc analysis revealed that this effect seemed to be more pronounced in males than in females. We did not find a significant effect of maltodextrin. Cortisol responder rates in all three experimental groups were higher than in the control group. Our results suggest that, at least in males, the administration of 200 ml of grape juice is sufficient to facilitate HPA axis reactivity and to minimize confounding effects due to interindividual differences in energy availability while being exposed to a laboratory stress paradigm. The unexpected gender-specific effect is of potential relevance and should be scrutinized in future studies.

Keywords: Cortisol; Glucose; Psychosocial stress; TSST.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dietary Sugars / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Sugars / pharmacology*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Fructose / administration & dosage
  • Fructose / pharmacology*
  • Fruit and Vegetable Juices
  • Glucose / administration & dosage
  • Glucose / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Male
  • Polysaccharides / administration & dosage
  • Polysaccharides / pharmacology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*
  • Sweetening Agents / administration & dosage
  • Sweetening Agents / pharmacology*
  • Vitis
  • Young Adult


  • Dietary Sugars
  • Polysaccharides
  • Sweetening Agents
  • Fructose
  • maltodextrin
  • Glucose
  • Hydrocortisone