Weight Loss Genetics: Ghrelin

Your weight is controlled, in part, by your brain. There is a complex feedback system that lets your brain know how much energy you have stored -- and a hardwired drive to eat when your brain thinks you need more food. Ghrelin is one of the hormones involved in the appetite control system.

Ghrelin: Controlling appetite

At the most basic level, we are all driven to seek out food. The motivation to eat is inherent to all animals because we simply can't live without energy from food. Tasty foods like Doritos and pizza haven't always been at our fingertips, so the innate drive to eat is strong enough to drive people to eat less tasty foods, such as liver or turnips. Ghrelin, a peptide hormone, regulates energy, and stimulates appetite.  It was discovered about 20 years ago and first investigated as a hormone controlling growth hormone release.[ref] The cells lining the stomach secrete ghrelin and then the hormone travels to the brain. In the hypothalamus, receptors for ghrelin (GHSR receptors) receive the signal for the need for food. This triggers a series of actions that results in you seeking food.[ref] At the same time, ghrelin causes the stomach to prepare for food through increasing gastric motility (think stomach growling because you are hungry!) as well as increasing gastric acid. Thus - the signal sent to the brain prompts you to seek food, and the signal sent to the stomach gets it ready for action. What causes ghrelin to be released? Both hypoglycemia (low blood glucose levels) and low body weight can act to trigger ghrelin. Fasting increases this hormone and eating - specifically filling up the stomach - decreases it. Researchers don't have all the answers yet for ghrelin, and there is a lot of on-going research into the link with BMI, cardiovascular health, and aging.[ref]

Genetic variants that impact ghrelin levels:

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