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Hunger Hormone Makes Food Look More Tasty
Date:5/7/2008

Study finds those given injections of ghrelin showed activity in brain's reward centers

WEDNESDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- A new brain imaging study reveals that a gut hormone known for its appetite-promoting powers actually stimulates key reward centers in the brain to make food look more tasty and irresistible.

The feeding culprit is ghrelin, and the finding suggests that this hormone's so-called "hedonic effect" on the senses unfolds in the same brain regions that researchers have long-associated with drug addiction -- motivating people to eat even when there is no nutritional reason to do so.

"For hundreds of years, people used to think that you eat only because you're hungry," observed study author Dr. Alain Dagher, an associate professor with the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University, in Canada. "But we found that the actual system involves a drive for food that is not at all related to hunger."

"The reason for this," he added, "is that almost every animal -- including us, until very recently -- was living in a world where there wasn't enough food, so that the big risk is starving to death. This creates a real pressure to eat. And obtaining food is risky. It requires effort and putting yourself at the mercy of predators. So you need something to get you out of your cave, and the only way that's going to happen is if the food is attractive enough to get you to overcome those costs and risks. And we've found a hormone that does this by acting on the pleasure and reward centers of the brain and making food you see seem more appealing and more desirable."

Dagher and his colleagues reported their findings in the May issue of Cell Metabolism.

The authors analyzed functional MRIs of brain activity among 20 healthy men while they viewed food and non-food imagery.

Within three hours of eating a standard breakfast -- so that the men were neither full nor hungry -- a
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