Ghrelin is a hormone that acts in the brain to stimulate hunger and increase food intake, heightens the appeal of high-calorie foods over low-calorie foods.
Ghrelin Hunger Study
“It raises the possibility that drugs that block the action of ghrelin may help reduce cravings for high-calorie foods and so help people lose weight,” said lead author Tony Goldstone, MD, PhD, a consultant endocrinologist with the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London in the U.K. The results also suggest an increased release of ghrelin from the stomach into the blood may explain why a person who skips breakfast also finds high-calorie foods more appealing than low-calorie foods, according to Goldstone.
In the new study, 18 healthy, non obese adults viewed pictures of food on three separate mornings: once after skipping breakfast and twice about 90 minutes after eating breakfast. On one of the visits when subjects ate breakfast, they received an injection of salt water (as a control) 40 minutes before viewing the food pictures, and on the other visit with breakfast, they received an injection of ghrelin. Neither the volunteers nor the investigators were aware of which injection was given on which visit.
Pictures of high-calorie foods included cake, chocolate and pizza. Among the low-calorie foods pictured were vegetables, salads and fish. Using a keypad, the subjects rated how appealing they found each food picture.
High-calorie foods were of similar appeal to low-calorie foods when subjects ate breakfast and then received a salt-water injection. However, high-calorie foods, especially sweet foods, were of greater appeal when subjects fasted and when they received ghrelin after eating breakfast. The appeal of low-calorie foods did not differ significantly between visits.
“Ghrelin mimicked fasting in biasing food appeal toward high-calorie foods,” Goldstone said. “Changes in which foods we prefer to eat when missing meals may be explained by changes in the levels of ghrelin in our blood to help regulate our overall calorie intake.”