Why binge drinking cause binge eating

January 11, 2017 by Bob Yirka report
Credit: Peter Häger/Public Domain

(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers affiliated with several institutions in the U.K. has found what they believe is the reason why consumption of alcohol leads to hunger pangs and excessive eating. In their paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers outline experiments they conducted with mice given alcohol and the ways it impacted their brains.

Most people who drink beverages containing alcohol know that doing so causes them to feel hungry, which leads them to eating more than they normally would. This pattern, health scientists suggest, likely plays some role in modern obesity problems. But it has also puzzled other researchers because it seems illogical—alcohol is high in calories, which means it should quench hunger, not stimulate it. To better understand what is going on, the researchers injected alcohol directly into the abdomens of lab over a three-day weekend and then tested them to see what happened.

One of the findings was that the mice became hungrier—they ate far more than other mice that were not given alcohol, particularly on the second day. The effect was temporary though; shortly after the alcohol spigot was turned off, the appetite of the mice returned to normal. This confirmed that mice react similarly to humans. Next, the researchers took a much closer look, studying the mice brains up close—focusing most specifically on Agrp neurons (located in the hypothalamus), because prior research has shown that they are the neurons that are activated when mice experience hunger pangs. Indeed, another study had shown that activating the neurons in mice caused them to continue to eat even when their bellies were completely full.

Deactivating the neurons in this study before injecting alcohol into test mice led to the mice not overeating, suggesting very strongly that alcohol causes the same neurons to fire as hunger pangs. Though the researchers could not repeat the experiment on humans, it appears likely that the same mechanism occurs, which in turn explains why we eat so much after drinking.

To better understand the underlying mechanism involved, the researchers caused calcium in the cells of some sample Agrp to turn green when exposed to alcohol—an indicator of cell activity—and found that bathing them in caused an increase in calcium levels, which led to an increase in the rate of neural firing.

Explore further: Scientists uncover mechanism that controls feeding behavior in mice

More information: Sarah Cains et al. Agrp neuron activity is required for alcohol-induced overeating, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms14014

Abstract
Alcohol intake associates with overeating in humans. This overeating is a clinical concern, but its causes are puzzling, because alcohol (ethanol) is a calorie-dense nutrient, and calorie intake usually suppresses brain appetite signals. The biological factors necessary for ethanol-induced overeating remain unclear, and societal causes have been proposed. Here we show that core elements of the brain's feeding circuits—the hypothalamic Agrp neurons that are normally activated by starvation and evoke intense hunger—display electrical and biochemical hyperactivity on exposure to dietary doses of ethanol in brain slices. Furthermore, by circuit-specific chemogenetic interference in vivo, we find that the Agrp cell activity is essential for ethanol-induced overeating in the absence of societal factors, in single-housed mice. These data reveal how a widely consumed nutrient can paradoxically sustain brain starvation signals, and identify a biological factor required for appetite evoked by alcohol.

Related Stories

Scientists uncover mechanism that controls feeding behavior in mice

November 9, 2016
A team of scientists has discovered a mechanism that controls feeding behavior in mice by regulating the electrical activity of a few thousand brain cells. The researchers, from Baylor College of Medicine, South China Agricultural ...

A virus could manipulate neurons to reduce the desire to drink

October 25, 2016
About 17 million adults and more than 850,000 adolescents had some problems with alcohol in the United States in 2012. Long-term alcohol misuse could harm your liver, stomach, cardiovascular system and bones, as well as your ...

Mixing energy drinks, alcohol may affect adolescent brains like cocaine

October 24, 2016
Drinking highly caffeinated alcoholic beverages triggers changes in the adolescent brain similar to taking cocaine, and the consequences last into adulthood as an altered ability to deal with rewarding substances, according ...

Researchers finds mechanism affecting alcohol consumption

August 30, 2016
A Washington State University researcher has found a mechanism that strongly influences whether or not an animal is likely to drink a lot of alcohol.

Study in rats finds low blood alcohol levels have no effect on total calories consumed

November 23, 2016
Laboratory rats will drink alcohol if it's available, and may even get a little tipsy, researchers report in a new study. But they won't voluntarily drink until they're drunk. And while ethanol is calorie-rich, rats that ...

Fat tissue in energy saving mode

March 31, 2016
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne have discovered brain cells that not only tell hungry mice to search for food, but also to limit blood sugar use by the brown fat tissue. This could ...

Recommended for you

'Residual echo' of ancient humans in scans may hold clues to mental disorders

July 26, 2017
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have produced the first direct evidence that parts of our brains implicated in mental disorders may be shaped by a "residual echo" from our ancient past. The more ...

Cellular roots of anxiety identified

July 26, 2017
From students stressing over exams to workers facing possible layoffs, worrying about the future is a normal and universal experience. But when people's anticipation of bad things to come starts interfering with daily life, ...

Laser used to reawaken lost memories in mice with Alzheimer's disease

July 26, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at Columbia University has found that applying a laser to the part of a mouse brain used for memory storage caused the mice to recall memories lost due to a mouse version of Alzheimer's ...

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Zebrafish study reveals clues to healing spinal cord injuries

July 25, 2017
Fresh insights into how zebrafish repair their nerve connections could hold clues to new therapies for people with spinal cord injuries.

Lutein may counter cognitive aging, study finds

July 25, 2017
Spinach and kale are favorites of those looking to stay physically fit, but they also could keep consumers cognitively fit, according to a new study from University of Illinois researchers.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 11, 2017
I wonder if the cause is because of alcoholic ketacidosis (i.e. change of pH value due to excessive alcohol consumption). An urge to consume (fatty) foods could be an attempt to buffer this.
LaPortaMA
not rated yet Jan 11, 2017
This is pretend science leading to pretend understanding.
You (MEx) love this stuff.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.