Ghrelin is a hormone produced by enteroendocrine cells of the gastrointestinal tract, especially the stomach, and is often called a “hunger hormone” because it increases the drive to eat. Blood levels of ghrelin are highest before meals when hungry, returning to lower levels after mealtimes.
Ghrelin, the appetite increaser, is released primarily in the stomach and is thought to signal hunger to the brain. You’d expect the body to increase ghrelin if a person is undereating and decrease it if they are overeating. Sure enough, ghrelin levels have been found to increase in children with anorexia nervosa and decrease in children who are obese.
- People who have obesity have higher levels of ghrelin circulating. This can lead to a continuous state of hunger and make it difficult to lose weight.
- Dieting also has been known to stimulate ghrelin secretion. What is more, diets can also decrease leptin levels, which is known as the “satiety hormone.” Combined, this may make it difficult to lose weight and keep it off long term.
- Ghrelin levels also may be higher during periods of stress. Higher ghrelin levels are thought to have an anxiolytic effect on the body.
How to Control Hunger Hormones
- 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.
- Researchers have shown that either a diet rich in either “good” carbohydrates (like whole grains) or a diet high in protein suppresses ghrelin more effectively than a diet high in fat.
- Something that might help (and certainly won’t hurt) is to get enough sleep! In a study of 12 young men, sleep deprivation was associated with an increase in ghrelin levels, appetite, and hunger compared with when they slept 10 hours a night.