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1. August 2021

A hormone that makes us hungry

Do you feel hungry all the time? Unable to think about anything other than food? A low calorie diet, for example, can lead to your internal system to signalling you to eat more because your body thinks it is going to starve. One of the main causes is the hormone ghrelin.

What is hunger? What is appetite?

Whether we are actually hungry or not is signalled to us by a tiny part of our diencephalon in our brain: the hypothalamus. This is where the central control unit of our entire organism is located and where messages are received as to whether the body is sufficiently supplied with certain nutrients or if there is a deficiency. It also controls the regulation of body weight.

In our head we make the decision when and how much to eat. Several brain regions, many biochemical mechanisms and hundreds of hormones work together to give signals that we define as appetite or hunger. What are the differences?

In short, hunger can be defined as “physical hunger”. It is an innate reflex and protects us from starvation. When our body does not receive enough energy in the form of food, the stomach lining and pancreas produce the hormone ghrelin, which tells the brain that we need energy – a very exciting and important hormone, which we will discuss in more detail later. Once we have eaten something, the ghrelin level drops and the counterpart hormone leptin is formed, which tells our brain that we are full.

Appetite, on the other hand, is “emotional hunger”. Everyone has experienced this at one time or another, when you are actually full but can’t say “no” at the sight of a piece of cake. This is due to a psychological stimulus that makes us want to eat a certain food. Food also has a psychological function and has been shaped by childhood, among other things.

How can the hunger hormone ghrelin be controlled?

Research shows that the food we eat affects our blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels drop, people often eat higher calorie foods because they feel more hungry. This is also why you sometimes feel the “post-lunch slump” – it’s the body’s reaction when blood sugar levels rise quickly and then crash to a low level.

As mentioned earlier, there are factors that mess up our metabolic system and thus also the hormone ghrelin. The main causes are defined as malnutrition, chronic stress and lack of sleep. This means, for example, that after weight loss or also in the case of permanent stress or overtiredness, the ghrelin level in the blood rises and thus disturbs the feeling of hunger and satiety and makes it difficult to control our appetite. This is best known to those who turn to snacks after a short night with little sleep.

Therefore, we should make sure that ghrelin production is in balance. This is because the release of the hunger hormone is significantly influenced by our own lifestyle, so that we can control the hormone ourselves very well for the most part.

Make sure you get enough and good quality sleep. After all, restful sleep is crucial for overall well-being, and a lack of sleep can lead to fluctuations in ghrelin levels.

Diet also plays a big role. By eating a diet high in protein and fibre, with fewer sugary foods, you can prevent excess ghrelin. Protein also increases the production of the “satiety hormone” – leptin, which reduces appetite and provides a feeling of fullness. Sufficient good fats and carbohydrates should also be consumed.

In addition, we sometimes confuse thirst with hunger. Drink one or two glasses of water, wait for a moment and then listen to your body to see if you are really hungry.

Finally, make sure you relax regularly. Especially with chronic stress, certain moments of rest are so important. Not only is too much stress generally bad for us, but it also drives up ghrelin levels immensely and thus also slows down fat burning. As a result, the weight of affected people increases.

What relaxation means differs from person to person. Pay attention to what is good for you – this can be exercise in the fresh air, meditation or even a warm bath.