We are one step closer to deciphering why people often crave brownies, mashed potatoes, ice cream and other high-calorie, high-fat comfort foods.
UT Southwestern Medical Center-led findings, in a mouse study, suggest that ghrelin is involved in triggering this reaction to high stress situations. If you’ve not heard of “ghrelin” yet, you will be hearing about it more and more as it a hormone involved with hunger.
Scientists know that fasting causes ghrelin to be released from the gastrointestinal tract, and that the hormone then plays a role in sending hunger signals to the brain. Research has previously shown that chronic stress also causes elevated ghrelin levels.
In mice, stress-induced rises in ghrelin lead to overeating and increased body weight, showing a relationship between weight related issues and chronic stress and depression.
For this study, researchers developed a mouse model to determine which hormones and what parts of the brain may play a role in controlling eating behaviors that occur when stressed, and particularly the hormones that lead to the indulgence of comfort foods.
The mice subjected to stress gravitated toward a chamber where they had been trained to find pleasurable, fatty food — the mouse equivalent of “comfort food.” However, mice who were genetically engineered not to respond to stress-induced increases in ghrelin, showed no preference toward the fatty food chamber. Even when exposed to the fatty food, they did not eat as much as the other mice.
The study also showed that these effects of ghrelin are due to direct interaction with dopaminergic neurons in the brain’s ventral tegmental area, which is known to be associated with pleasure and reward behaviors.
More and more studies surrounding ghrelin are surfacing as scientists know it is a key hormone in hunger, and further studies may show ways to help temper the hormone release, helping many people overcome obesity.
In my book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, I discuss the role of ghrelin and another appetite related hormone called leptin. One of the best ways to balance these hormones is to get a good night’s sleep and to eat small regular meals throughout the day.
For more information on how to balance your brain and hormones so that you can have better success at maintaining health and weight, check out my books Change Your Brain, Change Your Body or The Amen Solution or see www.theamensolution.com. For a good night’s sleep, see our store at www.amenclinics.com for supplements and audio tapes that support restful sleep.
Research: UT Southwestern Medical Center (2011, June 29). Ghrelin likely involved in why we choose ‘comfort foods’ when stressed. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2011/06/110623130336.htm