Drinking alcohol in moderation is a cardinal rule of weight loss. In addition to ingesting lots of empty calories, it’s human nature to crave junk food while under the influence. Why we feel compelled to eat, even after drinking hundreds of calories, has been a mystery. But a team of British researchers believes they can help explain why binge drinking leads to binge eating.
A full belly normally results in satiety, a feeling produced by the brain after receiving hormone borne signals from the stomach that it’s had enough. A new study published in the journal Nature Communications suggests that feeding circuits in the brain that are activated by starvation (better known as hunger pangs) are also activated by alcohol.
Opting not to encourage such behavior in humans, scientists from The Francis Crick Institute in London simulated a weekend bender with mice. Alcohol equivalent to two bottles of wine or eight pints of beer was injected directly into the abdomens of some of the rodents over three days and monitored their feeding. Among the findings, the intoxicated mice ate far more than the sober mice, especially on day two of the bender. When the animals were allowed to sober up, their appetites returned to normal.
Alcohol and appetite
Previous research has shown that a type of neuron called AgRP plays a role in hunger for both mice and humans. In studies, activating AgRP in mice caused them to eat even though their bellies were full. Turning off AgRP killed their appetites. To test their theory that alcohol affects AgRP, the scientists deactivated this neuron in a group of mice and drugged them with alcohol.
Intoxication failed to trigger binge eating in the deactivated mice. This finding suggested that alcohols effects on AgRP is the answer to why binge drinking leads to binge drinking. The researchers went further by treating AgRP neurons with a substance that turns them green with cell activity. Experiments showed that alcohol increased the rate of neural firing in AgRP.
The researchers concluded that alcohols effect on AgRP could help explain the relationship between boozing and binging. But by no means did they claim it explains everything. Human beings are a little too complex for that.
Does it matter if you know why drinking too much makes you eat too much? We already knew that once you step over the line, you’re likely to lose control of your appetite. Perhaps you could apply your knowledge of the physiology to resist alcohol’s pull on your appetite. Better still, you could develop a respect for the power alcohol has over your brain cells, which may strengthen your resolve to practice moderation.