Cortisol, but not intranasal insulin, affects the central processing of visual food cues.
Stress glucocorticoids and insulin are important endocrine regulators of energy homeostasis, but little is known about their central interaction on the reward-related processing of food cues. According to a balanced group design, healthy food deprived men received either 40IU intranasal insulin (n=13), 30mg oral cortisol (n=12), both (n=15), or placebo (n=14). Acoustic startle responsiveness was assessed during presentation of food and non-food pictures. Cortisol enhanced startle responsiveness during visual presentation of "high glycemic" food pictures, but not during presentation of neutral and pleasant non-food pictures. Insulin had no effect. Based on the "frustrative nonreward" model these results suggest that the reward value of high glycemic food items is specifically increased by cortisol.