Could That Before-Dinner Drink Make You Eat More?
In some people, alcohol causes the brain to focus on food aromas, study finds
By Amy Norton
FRIDAY, July 17, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Having a drink before dinner really may make some people eat more -- by focusing the brain's attention on food aromas, a small study suggests.
The effect is modest, and not universal, the researchers said. But the findings, reported in the July issue of the journal Obesity, may offer one explanation for the so-called "aperitif effect" -- where some people feel hungrier when they imbibe.
"The joke is, every restaurant knows that if they give you a drink first, you'll eat more," said one of the study's authors, Robert Considine, a professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, in Indianapolis.
In the new study, Considine and his colleagues tried to get at the biology underlying the effect. Using MRI brain scans, they found that, on average, alcohol made a particular brain area -- the hypothalamus -- more focused on food aromas, versus other types of odors.
The hypothalamus produces hormones that help govern various body functions, including hunger. And alcohol, Considine said, "seemed to direct the hypothalamus to pay more attention to food."
However, the findings don't mean weight-watchers can't enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, according to Martin Binks, an obesity researcher who wasn't involved in the study.
Binks pointed to several reasons: most of the time, alcohol increased study participants' food intake by only a small amount; one-third actually ate less; and the whole study group was in the normal-weight range.
"We know that in people who are obese, the brain tends to respond differently [to food], versus non-obese people," said Binks, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, Texas.
Even more important, Binks said, appetite and weight control are extremely complex. And if there's one thing that's clear, "there is no one-size-fits-all diet, or magic bullet against obesity," he added.
"What's important about this study," Binks said, "is that it speaks to the complexity of appetite regulation. There are hundreds of influences on eating behavior, and this [alcohol intake] is one of them."