"Hunger hormone" responsible for comfort eating

Ghrelin thought to be responsible for stress-related eating

By Ian Birch

Researchers say a study, conducted on mice, may show why we comfort eat when we are stressed or depressed.

Luxury chocolateThe Journal of Clinical Investigation report says the "hunger hormone" ghrelin may explain why some stressed people eat chocolate, ice-cream or other comfort foods to relieve their symptoms.  It's the first time scientists have been able to pinpoint a cause for the well-known habit.

Scientists know that fasting causes the release of ghrelin from the stomach, and this in turn triggers off hunger in the brain.

"This helps explain certain complex eating behaviors and may be one of the mechanisms by which obesity develops in people exposed to psychosocial stress," Dr. Jeffrey Zigman, assistant professor of internal medicine and psychiatry and senior author of the report told Science Daily.

In the study, food-reward behaviour in mice was monitored after exposure to chronic stress - featuring aspects of major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.  The peptide hormone ghrelin was found to be responsible for an increase in high-fat foods.

It could lead one day to treaments for comfort-eating, but the researchers say this could be a long way in the future.

You can read the full study online at http://www.jci.org/articles/view/57660

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