How to Soothe the Hungry Brain

No Need to Pig Out; First Bites of Food May Be Enough

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 3, 2006 -- Ever been so hungry you felt like you could inhale Thanksgiving dinner and keep on eating without missing a beat?

Actually, your brain might be satisfied with a lot less food.

That tidbit comes from a study on rats, not people. The study appears in October's edition of Cell Metabolism.

The findings are "intriguing," write Matthias Tschop, MD, and colleagues in a journal editorial.

Tschop works in the University of Cincinnati's psychiatry department and Obesity Research Center-Genome Institute.

"The next meal is not far, and we better start getting ready. According to [the researchers], so will our brain," write Tschop and colleagues.

Hungry Brain

The study comes from researchers based at Scotland's University of Edinburgh.

They included Louise Johnstone, PhD, who now works in New Jersey at Merck Research Laboratories.

They studied male rats that only had access to food for two hours per day.

After 10 days on that highly restrictive eating plan, the rats were ravenous, devouring food as soon as it became available.

But Johnstone and colleagues noticed something interesting. The rats didn't eat for the entire two hours. They stopped eating at least half an hour before their two-hour deadline.

The scientists examined the rats' brains before and after they started eating.

Ravenous Rats

At feeding time -- but before the rats had the chance to start eating -- the rats showed high brain levels of an appetite-related protein.

That finding suggests that the rats knew it was feeding time and were anticipating their long-awaited chow.

The rats ate "promptly and voraciously," the researchers write. After a few minutes, the rats' brains showed a rise in proteins linked to satiety, which means feeling full.

Those satiety proteins peaked after an hour or 90 minutes of eating, which is when the rats stopped eating.

The rats' mental satiety circuit appeared to be triggered by the first few bites of food, not by a full stomach.

Whether people behave the same way remains to be seen. But if the findings hold for people, it may mean that the hungry brain doesn't require a major feast to be satisfied.

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Medical News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 03, 2006


SOURCES: Johnstone, L. Cell Metabolism, October 2006; vol 4: pp 313-321. Tschop, M. Cell Metabolism, October 2006; vol 4: pp 257-262.News release, Cell Press.

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