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A mouthguard may ease stress during athletic competition

Apr 26th, 2012
Staff writer

Stressed golferSress gets to every athlete on occasion, whether you’re a pro or weekend golfer. But a new study suggests that wearing a mouthguard may mitigate some of the effects of stress.

Few golfers need mouthguards for safety purposes. (The last we heard, the Lakers' Metta World Peace hadn't taken up the sport.) However, the study, from South Carolina researchers, found that a mouthpiece seemed helpful in altering the body’s stress response during athletic events and could conceivably help any type of athlete – non-contact sport or not.

The study involved the use of a customized device resting on the lower jaw designed to lower cortisol, the hormone released during stress, following exercise.  Thirteen athletes work a custom-made mouthpiece during an exercise session and then repeated an identical exercise session without the mouthpiece. The participants’ blood lev els were analyzed before and after each session to measure cortisol.

The study showed no difference in the pre-exercise cortisol levels between the two groups. However, when the mouthpiece was worn during exercise, the athletes had lower cortisol levels 30 minutes after the exercise session.

"The findings are important because decreasing the cortisol response after exercise may lead to a quicker recovery time which is an important consideration for those who train daily, such as competitive athletes," said a co-author of the study, Wes D. Dudgeon, of the department of health, exercise, and sport science at The Citadel. "The findings also show the potential to enhance exercise performance without the use of drugs or supplements."

The researchers don’t know why the mouthpiece causes cortisol levels to drop. One theory is that as the mouthguard changes the alignment of the lower jaw, blood flow to the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that controls the stress response, increases. That could in turn reduce the amount of cortisol that is released, Dudgeon said.

The same group of researchers has also found that oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production increased in people who wore the mouthpiece during a running exercise. A second study found collegiate football players who wore the mouthguard had lower cortisol levels in their saliva following exercise training.

The research was presented at the annual Experimental Biology 2012 meeting Wednesday in San Diego.