Scientific Breakthroughs

New Study on Mice Points to Alcohol-Induced Overeating

New Study on Mice Points to Alcohol-Induced Overeating
PHOTOGRAPH: Janko Ferlic | Photo shows alcoholic beverages and food.

No one likes to drink on an empty stomach – except those who deliberately set out to get drunk. When drinking alcohol, people often eat more, presumably because the drink erodes willpower.

A recent study, however, points to a set of brain cells as being activated by alcohol, thereby inducing overeating. The Francis Crick Institute and University College London, funded by the Cancer Research UK, the UK Medical Research Council and The Wellness Trust, tested 10 mice in conducting the study.

Researchers injected the mouse equivalent of 18 units of ethanol (pure alcohol or alcohol not diluted with distilled water) into the mice for three days. The mice’s eating habits were monitored before and after their alcohol intake.

Triggering “Attack of the Munchies”

Alcoholic drinks carry a high number of calories: In calorie density, alcohol is second only to fat. People may disregard that fact when they are drinking, they tend to choose less healthy snacks given the diminished will power.

Perhaps their discipline has left them after the third drink, their resistance to such snacks gone out the window. The new finding suggests another explanation — that the specific effect of the alcoholic beverage  on brain cells is what is triggering the “attack of the munchies”

Beyond Hunger-Influencing Hormones

The study made in the United Kingdom pointing to alcohol affecting brain cells and triggering increased hunger points to one thing. Over and above hunger-influencing hormones like leptin, ghrelin, and neuropeptide Y (NPY), the brain tells you when you are hungry and when to appease that hunger by eating.

The Agouti-related peptide (AGRP) nerve cells from the hypothalamus of the brain are used by the body to regulate appetite.  Using calcium activity markers which show brain activity on brain scans, the scientists measured and found spikes of electrical activity in AGRP cells from the mice’s brains.

The tests indicated that the mice consumed 10 to 25 percent more food after their alcohol intake. Their eating habits went back to previous levels after alcohol was withdrawn.

The researchers tested the findings further by blocking the mice’s AGRP cells with a drug while the rodents still had alcohol in their systems. The result showed no increase in eating.

Thus, interpretation is that alcohol coming into contact with AGRP cells results to overeating. The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

A Calorie-Laden Habit

While the findings of the study are eye-opening, mice are not humans. Still, the same effect on people is highly plausible.

It also conveys that people prone to overeating would benefit from avoiding too much alcohol. It is, after all, the second highest source of calories.

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