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Appetite Control in the Brain

by
author image Cydney Walker
Cydney Walker is a registered dietitian and personal trainer who began writing about nutrition and exercise during her dietetic internship in 2000. She has been featured in "Voices" and by the National Medical Association for her HIV research. She earned her master's degree in human sciences from Texas A&M University in Kingsville.
Appetite Control in the Brain
Hunger is driven by our brains, but food choices help define how people eat. Photo Credit Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images

Appetite control center is a collection parts of your brain and hormones that work in concert to control when and how you eat. Your body signals hunger when blood sugar levels are low sending a signal to your brain, trigger you to eat. This balance of calories based on your weight, body fat level, gender and level of hormones, including insulin, glucagon and other digestive hormones, send signals to your brain that tells you it is time to eat.

Hypothalmus

The hypothalmus receives signals that control your hunger cues. Your hypothalmus receives messages from protein peptides and hormones to regulate food intake to energy expenditure. The production of homrones and peptides stimulate your brain to manage your hunger cues and desire to eat food.

Melanocotrin

Melanocotrin-3 and -4 regulate food intake and calorie usage. These receptors are found in the hypothalmus, which regulate your need to eat. When these two proteins are not expressed due to genetic mutations or inflammation, your weight can escalate and lead to obesity. According to Andrew Margioris, MD and Christos Tsatsanis, Ph.D. in the “The Melanocortin Receptor Family (MC-R),” mice with low levels of MC-3 and -4 became obese because of overeating. These two proteins help your hypothalmus control your frequency of eating. When these two proteins are low, your eating behavior may increase causing weight gain.

Mesolimbic Reward System

The mesolimbic reward system of your brain plays a critical role in producing a positive association with eating certain foods. When food taste is highly palatable, meaning it taste good, you connect feelings of pleasure with the taste of foods. According to John Blundell in “Perspective on the Central Control of Appetite,” your normal hunger responses may be overwhelmed by your desire to eat foods that taste good and cause you to overeat past the point of satiety. Your body receives a larger dopamine response when food is pleasurable, leading you to seek foods that produce the same chemical response for your brain.

Leptin

Leptin is a hormone made by your fat cells, which helps your brain regulate hunger. The hypothalmus has leptin receptors that increase hunger when leptin levels are high. According to Hans-Rudolph Berthoud in “Homeostatic and Non-homeostatic Pathways involved in the Control of Food Intake and Energy Balance,” low leptin levels in the brain leads to overeating and treating humans with leptin causes weight loss.

Ghrelin

Ghrelin is a hormone secreted to stimulate your hypothalmus to produce feelings of hunger. After eating, ghrelin levels decline to the lowest levels and rise again to stimulate hunger when it is time for your next meal. When weight loss occurs, ghrelin levels are higher to maintain a set point in your body weight, according to AK Madan in “Ghrelin: A Potential Drug Target for Obesity.” Ghrelin acts on your hypothalmus by triggering hunger cues when it is time for your next meal.

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