New study finds that eating turkey helps control the body’s stress response

This year, turkey seems to have a trick up its sleeve: It’s apparently a bit more sociable than its ancestors, and can tolerate the heat better than beef. Because, you know, it’s a turkey.

According to a new study that was published in the journal Scientific Reports, eating turkey may actually help people stay healthier. While eating the traditional Thanksgiving bird keeps the body temperature down and reduces cortisol levels — an inflammatory chemical that can signal the body to shut down if it senses its stressor’s arrival — turkey allows people to better control that end of things.

“What we’re trying to do is to find out, ‘OK, where is the health-promoting effect of turkey?’” said senior author Elizabeth Fasano, PhD, associate professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Georgia.

The study was conducted on seven mice.

They gave the mice cinnamon and chile pepper, both of which contain compounds that bind with cortisol, and both of which can help lower people’s stress levels. They had the mice go through a transformation of fat to muscle, like when you pop a turkey sandwich into your mouth while you exercise. Then, they fed the mice a rat equivalent of turkey sausage for 10 days straight. They even tweaked the animals’ bacteria to see if changing the composition in their intestines could help lower their stress levels.

On day 10, the mice started to grow more fat. Fasano thinks that’s because their abdominal fat had been dropped during the sausage phase, preventing any of the enzymes in their guts from processing the turkey-like sausage. This allowed the mice to start taking in more hormone-like compounds, which have been associated with improved health.

Fasano and her colleagues also looked at how the experience of eating turkey might affect the patients in her lab, with the help of a cardiologist. Doctors with cancer used to put some of their patients on turkey for months to increase metabolism and cure their diseases. Since that research stopped, and the meat became an afterthought, patients have stopped eating the meat entirely, especially during chemotherapy and other treatments. But while patients usually only eat turkey for dinners in the hospital — or, as Fasano put it, “fetching people’s kids at recess” — the new study showed that they can still get some good health benefits from the meat. They ate the turkey regularly, and significantly lowered levels of tumor tissue in their blood, which is a marker for tumor cells.

What does this mean for consumers of turkey in the U.S.? Well, they can still enjoy cooking it without worrying about cancer. It’s still good for you, for at least some of the calories and carbs, and it makes a healthier lunch for kids (and grandparents, in some cases).

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