You’ve finished a copious meal. You are not hungry anymore: the raging beast in your belly has been tamed. But you can still feel a craving deep inside. It makes you reach out for another cookie, a handful of potato chips, or perhaps an apple. This craving you feel is not your fault – your brain is to blame. But it’s one of the reasons for overeating, which fuels the obesity epidemic of our days.
Why do we snack even when we’re full?
According to several recent studies, there is an entire class of neurons that motivates animals – including humans – to eat even when they are not hungry. This is one of our motives for overeating. Apparently AGPR neurons are part of a neurological system that evolution didn’t eliminate yet, which urges animals to satisfy their needs – like eating or drinking. These neurons send annoying signals, and can be shut off by eating.
How not eating can lead to overeating
Researchers at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases have studied how animals behave when these neurons are turned on. Apparently fasting – something people do when they are on a (wrong) diet – is one of the ways to do so. When the brain detects low energy reserves, it releases neurotransmitters that shut off the brain cells which make them feel full.
How can we turn off the drive to eat
There is a mechanism in the brain that, if activated, tells the body that it has already eaten. The researchers from the Beth Israel Deaconess have found a way to do so, in mice. “Our findings suggest that the therapeutic targeting of these cells may reduce both food consumption and the aversive sensations of hunger – and, therefore, may be an effective treatment for obesity,” Dr. Bradford Lowell of Beth Israel Deaconess told the press.
The research team used genetic engineering to reach their goal – this is not an option when it comes to humans. But their research can open up new possibilities. A drug, maybe, that activates the areas responsible for feeling full. This way we’ll be able to diet without the unpleasant feeling of constant hunger, that has led to so many unsuccessful diets in the past.