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Hormone discovered that makes you hungrier

September 18, 2008
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Finally, they've come up with a way to excuse our gluttony! It seems there's a little gremlin in our gut, possessing the appropriate name "ghrelin," which actually makes food seem more appetizing. Now isn't that just too convenient for all concerned?

If you happen to be one of those naggers trying to make us stop stuffing our mouths with goodies, here's your proof that ghrelin really exists and may be rightfully accused of being one of the culprits responsible for our behavior. S. Malik and colleagues published the article, describing a study run on 20 males at McGill University in Canada, in the May issue of Cell Metabolism. Using MRIs of the brain, Dr. Alan Dagher was able to demonstrate that reward centers lit up when healthy, nonobese volunteers were infused with ghrelin and then shown pictures of food. Those centers were not just limited to one or two. Rather, the entire network became involved providing evidence that both metabolic and pleasure signals were leading to a desire to eat stimulated by visual processing and memory. In other words, the volunteers could see the pictures more clearly and were able to remember what they looked like much better, providing an aid to the desire to eat.

Ghrelin is a peptide hormone secreted by the gut. The IV was given to 12 of the 20 participants. The remaining eight received a placebo. This was done three hours after eating a standardized meal followed by viewing a number of photographs of food and scenery. They were then asked to rate their appetites and moods, and also were asked to recall the photos. Brain MRIs were done, and the same pictures were looked at again.

The results led to the conclusion that hunger increased in those receiving ghrelin, recall of food images improved in them as well, and response in desire-related areas of the brain lit up more than in the placebo participants. However, there were some reservations about these results because only males were included in the study, the number of participants was small, and ghrelin has other effects like increasing secretion of growth hormone, ACTH, cortisol and prolaction, all of which may also act on the brain.

Are we about to see a revolution in the way we treat obesity and diabetes now that a source for our excessive desire to eat has been revealed, and surgery is available for eliminating the need for medication to treat diabetics (as noted in my article about removing intestine to cure diabetes)? I'm reminded about an article I wrote a few years ago about a new approach to treating cancer that was being touted by a small medically oriented company. Oh, the company still exists all right, the value of its product still appears to be credible, but all these years later there seems to be no progress in getting their product to market in spite of government approvals.

Marvin Ackerman is a retired physician living in Queensbury.



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