Alcohol activates ‘starvation mode’, study finds

11th January, 2017 by Annie Hayes

Drinking alcohol triggers a “starvation mode” in the brain, increasing hunger and appetite, scientists have discovered.


The study reveals that the desire to overeat after an alcoholic drink is caused by a neuronal response

New research reported in the journal Nature Communications concludes that alcohol activates brain signals telling the body to eat more food – meaning the desire to overeat after a cocktail or a dram is caused by a neuronal response, rather than lack of self-restraint as previously thought.

Scientists gave mice large doses of alcohol for three days – a dose equating to around 18 units, approximately 19 gin and tonics.

Not only did the booze increase activity in neurons called AGRP, which are normally activated by starvation, but the mice ate 15-20% more than usual.

When the experiment was repeated with the neurons blocked with a drug, the mice did not eat as much. This, the researchers say, suggests that AGRP neurons are responsible for the alcohol-induced eating.

“Alcohol intake associates with overeating in humans. This overeating is a clinical concern, but its causes are puzzling, because alcohol is a calorie-dense nutrient, and calorie intake usually suppresses brain appetite signals,” said the study.

“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.

“Drinking an aperitif to stimulate appetite has been mentioned as a human practice since at least the 5th century AD. Modern studies confirm that alcohol intake acutely stimulates eating, and correlates with obesity.”

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