Gut hormone injections may help heavy drinkers give up alcohol

18th January, 2016 by Annie Hayes

Scientists will investigate whether an injection of compounds similar to hormones found in the gut could help people give up alcohol, smoking, and over-eating.

study

Researchers hope the injections will help reduce the urge to eat, smoke and drink

The team at Imperial College London will inject participants with compounds that mimic the action of two hormone systems produced naturally in the stomach and intestines.

Called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and gherkin, the hormones help trigger feelings of fullness after a meal and are known to target brain areas involved in addiction, reward and stress.

Researchers will test whether administering compounds that mimic these hormones can help reduce the urge to eat, smoke and drink.

In a statement on Imperial College London’s website, Dr Tony Goldstone, one of the scientists leading the study, said: “Studies suggest that people who are overweight may also respond to stress by over-eating, or be more impulsive. These behaviours will predispose them to overeat, particularly foods high in fat and sugar. They may also find it difficult to stop eating when they are trying to lose weight – in much the same way that people find it hard to give up cigarettes when they are quitting smoking, or giving up alcohol when they have a drinking problem.”

During the study, 90 volunteers comprising ex-smokers, ex-drinkers, and people trying to lose weight will have three infusions of either hormones similar to GLP-1 and ghrelin, or a placebo infusion of salt water.

Participants will undergo regular brain scans during the infusions, where they will be shown pictures of food, alcohol and cigarettes while scientists monitor brain activity.

The team will investigate whether these hormones can reduce activity in the areas of the brain involved in stress to help people avoid cravings to over-eat, drink or smoke.

To test this the volunteers will look at mildly stressful pictures, such as images of people holding knives or guns, while brain activity is measured.

Dr Goldstone added: ”Obesity, smoking and alcohol dependence are major health burdens to society. In obesity, non-surgical interventions, such as diet and exercise programmes, have been disappointing in achieving long-term weight loss.

“Similarly with alcohol and smoking dependence, relapse is common when trying to quit. Therefore, there is a pressing need to develop new drug treatments for addiction. We hope this study may lead to these.”

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