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My thanks to reader Underground Pewster who recently sent in an article about alcohol and food consumption.

(Photo credit: Lesley Voth’s Simply Fantastic)

Underground Pewster introduced ‘Alcohol triggers brain’s response to food aromas, increases caloric intake in women’ as follows:

We all know that a good glass of wine complements the meal, scientists are tracking down the brain pathways involved.

Although the alcohol was delivered intravenously rather than orally, the female participants in the Indiana University School of Medicine group ate more at lunch afterward than the ladies who had been given a saline-only IV infusion.

Restaurauteurs will be happy Dr David A. Kareken’s researchers concluded that (emphases mine):

food intake increased after the IV infusion of alcohol compared with a saline-only infusion (P = .04). In addition, functional MRI imaging showed a significantly increased left hypothalamic response to food aromas after an alcohol infusion in participants. Levels of the gut hormone ghrelin also were reduced after alcohol infusion.

… alcohol affected ghrelin in a fashion similar to ingested alcohol.

Some of the next steps in humans would be to understand how alcohol affects hypothalamic communication with other cortical and subcortical brain reward areas,” Kareken said. “Whereas animal models may be better suited to understand the precise dynamics of how alcohol affects signaling within hypothalamic networks.”

Ghrelin is a peptide hormone. It was discovered in 1996 and first reported on in 1999.

Researchers have found that ghrelin is lower in obese people. You and Your Hormones explains:

Eating reduces concentrations of ghrelin. Different nutrients slow down ghrelin release to varying degrees; carbohydrates and proteins restrict the production and release of ghrelin to a greater extent than fats.

Somatostatin also restricts ghrelin release, as well as many other hormones released from the digestive tract.

It seems that if one wants to increase ghrelin production and release to lose weight, the ketogenic diet might work well. It is high in fat, very low in carbohydrate and moderate in protein. Most Westerners gorge on carb and protein whilst reducing fat, which leads to more frequent meals and an inefficient use of insulin. Hence our high rates of obesity and diabetes.

As far as alcohol is concerned, it was only in 2012 that the first results were released on the effect of strong drink on humans. These confirm what people have known for millennia: drink hits a sweet spot in the brain. From the Daily Mail:

Previously scientists had deduced from animal studies that the pleasurable effects of alcohol come from the release of endorphins in the brain.

But new research used scanning technology to ‘light up’ the brain regions of drinkers, showing where it has the biggest impact.

A study from the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Centre at the University of California marks the first time that endorphin release in two regions of the brain, the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex, in response to drinking alcohol has been directly observed in humans.

Ernest Gallo Clinic — marvellous!

The researchers said that this pleasurable effect on the brain can cause certain people to overdo it. They add that too much drink not only makes one inebriated, it can lead to anxiety and depression. They conclude:

If we better understand how endorphins control drinking, we will have a better chance of creating more targeted therapies for substance addiction.

Bottom line: drinking in moderation releases feel-good chemicals in the brain. Excess consumption stops the release of these substances.

Eat, drink and be merry — then put down the bottle.

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