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Ghrelin aka Hunger Hormone

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

If there was a hormone in your body whose chief job was to make you feel hungry, most of us probably wouldn't be too keen on it. But if there was a hormone that decreased our appetites, we'd order buckets of it!

Well, let me introduce you to some hormones that do just those things: the "hunger hormones," leptin and ghrelin. Today, we are going to discuss the hunger hormone - Ghrelin - and what it does to our body.

Ghrelin facilitates the sensations of hunger and fullness, and it promotes fat storage. Levels of ghrelin change significantly throughout the day, increasing when a person is hungry and decreasing after eating.

Ghrelin’s main function is to increase appetite. It makes you consume more food, take in more calories, and store fat. In addition, it affects your sleep/wake cycle, reward-seeking behavior, taste sensation, and carbohydrate metabolism.

This hormone is produced in your stomach and secreted when your stomach is empty. It enters your bloodstream and affects a part of your brain called the hypothalamus, which helps regulate your hormones and appetite. The higher your levels of ghrelin, the hungrier you get. The lower your levels, the more full you feel and the easier it is to eat fewer calories.

Ghrelin may sound like a terrible, diet-wrecking hormone. However, in the past it played a role in survival by helping people maintain a moderate level of body fat.

Weight Loss Diet:

Ghrelin levels increase after dieting, which may explain why diet-induced weight loss can be difficult to maintain. This is a natural response by your body, which tries to protect you from starvation. During a weight loss diet, your appetite increases and your levels of the “fullness hormone” leptin go down. Your metabolic rate also tends to decrease significantly, especially if you restrict calories for long periods. These adaptations can make it significantly harder to lose weight and keep it off, as your hormones and metabolism adjust to try to regain the weight you’ve lost.

One would expect higher levels in people with obesity. However, ghrelin levels are usually lower in people with higher body weight compared with lean people, which suggests ghrelin is not a cause of obesity; although there is a suggestion that obese people are actually more sensitive to the hormone. However, more research is needed to confirm this. Studies reveal that in people with obesity, ghrelin decreases only slightly after eating, which can lead the brain to think more food is needed and lead to overeating.

So how do we control it? Let's look at strategies to help improve ghrelin functioning:

How to Control Hunger Hormones:

  • Maintain a moderate weight. Studies show that ghrelin levels increase during dieting. Drastic weight changes and yo-yo dieting can disrupt key hormones, including ghrelin.

  • Prioritize sleep. Poor sleep increases your levels of ghrelin and has been linked to increased hunger and weight gain.

  • Increase muscle mass. Higher amounts of fat-free mass or muscle are associated with lower levels of ghrelin.

  • Eat more protein. A high protein diet increases fullness and reduces hunger. One of the mechanisms behind this is a reduction in ghrelin levels.

  • Avoiding a high fat diet. When we eat, messages go out to various parts of our bodies to tell us we've had enough. But when we eat fatty meals, this system doesn't work as well. Eating fat tends to lead to eating more calories, gaining weight, and storing fat.

  • Avoiding sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. It can impair ghrelin’s decline after eating.

  • Eating plenty of healthy carbs. Whole grains can decrease ghrelin levels and keep you feeling fuller longer.

  • Staying well-hydrated. Increase volume in your stomach is by drinking water, soups and broths (low in sodium), as well as water-filled foods like salads, fruits, and vegetables. A full stomach turns down the ghrelin signal.

But, is there anything specific we can do to support our health and food intake and patterns , knowing Leptin and Ghrelin are watching every move and responding accordingly?

In layman's terms, we have to eat less and pay attention to what they are eating. How much of our calorie intake is divided between proteins, fats, and carbohydrates? There is a lot to learn, and many often wonder after they have gained weight, wondering: ‘How did this happen?’

Gaining knowledge about how our bodies work with us can guide us in making changes towards a more optimum health. Be an advocate for yourself, and I will try my best to help you reach—and sustain—a health that feels good to you.

Note: If you suspect your hunger hormones aren’t working optimally, it's also a good idea to make an appointment with an endocrinologist to discuss your health, diet, lifestyle, genetic factors and determine the right treatments to get you back to feeling your best.

Look out for my next post on Leptin aka Appetite Suppressor


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