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How Hunger Works

Posted April 19, 2017 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

Today is the first post of a mini-series about hunger. This first post will discuss what hunger is and how it works.

Simply, hunger signals the brain that it’s time to eat with the vagus nerve serving as the communication line between the abdomen and the brain.

When your stomach is empty or your blood sugar dips, the hormone ghrelin in the gut communicates with the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus regulates basic body functions such as thirst, sleep, sex, and hunger. When the hypothalamus receives the message, it triggers the release of neuropeptide Y, which stimulates your appetite. When you’ve eaten enough, the brain releases leptin, a hormone that signals fullness. Leptin is stored in fat tissues and it works by turning down the production of neuropeptide Y and turning up levels of proopiomelanocortin, an appetite suppressant in our bloodstream. The hypothalamus ensures that our insulin and blood sugar levels are back up to the appropriate levels.

If everything is working correctly then our basic physiological need for food, homeostatic hunger, would be satisfied with exactly the right amount of lean protein and raw veggies at every meal. Unfortunately, several factors can mess with metabolism or throw your hunger and fullness hormones out of whack such as hormone levels, stress, sleep, and a predisposition to obesity.

Moreover, there is another kind of hunger known as “hedonic hunger.” “Hedonic hunger is associated with the way our brains perceive pleasure and reward,” says Dr. Apovian, Director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center. “Certain triggers will cause our brains to crave a snack to soothe or energize us.”

Fatty, sugary food releases chemicals called opioids into the blood stream, giving us a feeling of pleasure.

Understanding the hormonal process of hunger and eating makes eating a little less sexy. At least it makes the second bowl of Fruit Loops I’m eating seem less appealing. Being able to know if you’re hungry is an important next step to taking control of your eating. Keep an eye out for next week’s article.

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#1

Re: How Hunger Works

04/19/2017 7:20 AM

Understanding the hormonal process of hunger and eating makes eating a little less sexy.

I don't know, I think a well prepared meatloaf is very sexy... or a medium don prime rib. Hamburger done out on the grill is pretty sexy. Even a bratwurst on the grill is pretty sexy... but then again, I'm from Green Bay, and tailgating at Lambeau Field before a Packer game is pretty nice too.

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#4
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/19/2017 12:23 PM

Here in Texas the foreplay simplifies to "Yew awake??"

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#5
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/19/2017 12:27 PM

in some places "You awake??", that would be called.... 'post play'.

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#6
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/19/2017 12:29 PM

With some of 'em it depends on how many are still in line.

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#7
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/19/2017 12:37 PM

I didn't think it could.... but, the quality of comments did go down after mine...

And I'm relieved, now where did I put my Ray-Ban®

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#8
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/19/2017 12:39 PM

Such is the nature of online forums.

Welding goggles work. So does camo.

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#9
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/19/2017 4:41 PM

In Arkansas it is "Hey cousin Millie, are yew 'wake?"

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#10
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/19/2017 4:44 PM

You boys made me truly sorry I stepped off my horsey into that pile of sh*fting sand.

Here's mud in your eye!

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#2

Re: How Hunger Works

04/19/2017 9:07 AM

Interesting info. Thanks!

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#3

Re: How Hunger Works

04/19/2017 11:24 AM

..."Fatty, sugary food releases chemicals called opioids into the blood stream, giving us a feeling of pleasure."...

I think this pretty much says it all....add a little alcohol to cloud judgement, sedentary lifestyle, and you have the recipe for an obesity crisis...

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#11

Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 5:11 AM

Just a note that this blog is not written by a person with a deep insight into physiology. It is true that the vagus nerve is a pathway of information between the gut and the brain (both ways, incidentally) but the action of ghrelin involves another route. Ghrelin is a hormone, i.e. a chemical produced in one part of the body which then travels in the bloodstream to have an effect in another part of the body. The action of ghrelin on the hypothalamus is independent of vagal signalling.

Pro-opiomelanocortin is not in itself an appetite suppressant. It is a large molecule synthesised in various sites, including hypothalamus, pituitary and even in the skin, which is then broken down enzymatically to produce a number of different hormones. One of these is β-endorphin, which gives rise to a sensation of pleasure. It is the fraction broken down in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus to α-melanotropin which suppresses appetite.

I will also venture to comment on " Being able to know if you’re hungry is an important next step". If you don't know you are hungry you will starve to death. I suggest it is more useful to emphasise "Being able to know that you have eaten enough already is an important next step".

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#12
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 7:15 AM

It is true that the vagus nerve is a pathway of information between the gut and the brain (both ways, incidentally)

well,... its been known for some time now that the digestive system houses certain elements of a nervous system as well as certain brain chemical that can affect mood.

One can surmise that within your gut is actually a second brain. Its quite interesting.

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#13
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 10:39 AM

In some men, the third brain is considerably further south. That one runs the entire show.

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#14
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 10:52 AM

for some men, that's the only thing they have for a brain.

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#15
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 2:13 PM

I'm sorry you provided that reference, because it is complete nonsense. The Institute of Health Sciences, whose website you quote, has a similar name to a respectable academic body, the National Institute of Health Sciences, which is a partner of the University of Limerick. The IHS, in contrast, has no academic credentials, and is more concerned with peddling its nutritional courses.

The nervous pathways from the gut go up to the brain and nervous impulses from the brain come back down to the gut. There is no evidence for integration of nervous activity locally in the gut. There is no second brain (try searching PubMed for "second brain").

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#16
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 2:19 PM

In my world, a sick gut = a sick mind. Worry creates a sick gut, which leads to a sick mind that worries, leading to a sicker gut, until {uuuuhhhhh} the bitter end.

If gut health is compromised, then the blood barrier is compromised, and this leads to infections all over the body, I suppose, not necessarily bacteria, but viral, fungal (esp. yeast flora), and so on.

I say eat, drink, and be merry because your gut depends on you.

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#17
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 2:36 PM

don't be sorry about my earlier reference, so how about Scientific America.

Or maybe you need a medical reference such as John Hopkins. Or you maybe you never heard of that either... Then how about Psychology Today.

Well I don't care about that last one.... but the list is long... with academic credentials.

You have to realize that the second brain is not an advance brain, may be complicated, but not advanced, and that's why I used the term 'surmised'... also... here's another tidbit where you may be confused with... and that is the word 'surmised'

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#18
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 2:45 PM

In the connotation of dialogue about gut phenomena, I would think that the word "surmise" does not return as often as "surprise".

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#19
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 3:49 PM

Thank you. I suggest you read them closely yourself. In Scientific American it is given in inverted commas as a nickname. In the Johns Hopkins reference the "gut brain" is substantially concerned with regulating the actions of the gut. Well, what a surprise, the heart, the lungs and the kidneys also have self-regulatory components. Yes, there is a lot of neural tissue in the gut, but it is still firmly subordinate to the brain. Quoting Johns Hopkins again: " it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.”.

I suggest you go off to PubMed and find me a real reference from the scientific literature.

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#20
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 3:55 PM

this is somewhat entertaining....

actually I have,... and you're basically repeating what I covered

why don't your tell me the meaning of the word 'surmise' is?

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#21
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 4:39 PM

I surmise that a lot of people surmise that the existence of a substantial amount of neural tissue is equivalent to the existence of a brain.

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#22
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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 5:06 PM

I didn't asked for and example, I asked if you knew the meaning... but still entertaining

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Re: How Hunger Works

04/20/2017 11:45 PM

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#24

Re: How Hunger Works

04/24/2017 9:48 AM

Some says a good appetite for food compensates the lack of sex life? Is it true?

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