Understandably so, the brain can play a vital role in regulating food intake. The study shows that alcohol exposure can both increase the brain’s sensitivity to external food cues (smell, sight) and result in greater consumption. Since most alcoholic beverages already include empty calories, an increase in food consumption can lead to energy imbalance and possibly weight gain.
The study included 35 non-vegetarian, non-smoking women at a healthy weight. Researchers circumvented the digestive system by exposing each participant to intravenously administered alcohol at one visit and then to a placebo at the next visit, prior to eating. Subsequently, brain responses to food and non-food scents were measured using an fMRI scan. After this imaging, participants were offered a lunch choice between pasta with Italian meat sauce or beef and noodles.
The results showed that when participants received intravenous alcohol, they ate more food at lunch (on average) compared to when they were given the placebo. Still, there were individual differences, with one-third of participants eating less after alcohol exposure.
It is very interesting to note that in addition to food consumption, the hypothalamus (area of the brain responsible for certain metabolic processes) also responded more to food odors after alcohol infusion. Researchers concluded that the hypothalamus might therefore play a role in mediating the impact of alcohol exposure on our sensitivity to external food cues.
While this study did yield interesting results, researchers agree that further research into the mechanism by which the hypothalamus affects food reward must be conducted. Dr. Binks of Texas Tech University explains, “today, nearly two-thirds of adults in the U.S. consume alcohol, with wine consumption rising, which reinforces the need to better understand how alcohol can contribute to overeating.”
Original article: Obesity
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