What Are Hunger Hormones?8/7/19
Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers secreted by various glands spread throughout the body. This intricate network of glands and hormones is referred to as the endocrine system, and it’s the job of the endocrine system to tell each part of the body what to do when to do it, and how long to do it.
Basically, any function that takes place in the body occurs under the direction of hormones.
Hormones travel through the blood to various tissues and organs, instructing them what to do. Included in the various functions that hormones regulate are:
- Growth and development
- Sexual function
Hormones even affect our appetite and hunger levels and play a pivotal role in the ultimate success (or failure) of weight loss.
Today, we key in on those specific hormones that impact hunger as well as steps you can take to help keep them under control and guarantee weight loss success with minimal suffering.
Let’s get started with the most well-known hormone associated with hunger...
Ghrelin -- The Hunger Hormone
Ghrelin is known is the “hunger hormone”, and while it does have a stimulatory effect on food intake, that just begins to scratch the surface of this multifaceted peptide.
Besides driving us to eat, ghrelin has also been found to:
- Inhibit insulin secretion
- Regulate gluconeogenesis/glycogenolysis
- Prevent muscle atrophy by stimulating muscle cell differentiation
- Decrease thermogenesis to regulate energy expenditure
- Reduce sympathetic nerve activity to enhance survival rates following a heart attack
- Modulate bone formation and metabolism by regulating osteoblast proliferation and differentiation
When the stomach is empty, ghrelin is secreted which instructs our hypothalamus (the region of the brain that regulates food intake and appetite) that it’s time to it. Levels of ghrelin are the highest right before we eat, and at their lowest around one-hour post-feeding.
However, normal functioning of ghrelin is impaired in overweight and obese individuals, which means that ghrelin levels do not decline as much following a meal and can result in overeating.
How to Control Ghrelin
Research has found that consuming protein at every meal can have a significant effect on lowering ghrelin levels[4,5], which just serves as further evidence that a high-protein diet does a body good.
Additional studies show that limiting intake of refined sugars (especially sugary drinks) may also help as they can impair normal ghrelin response following meals.[6,7]
Whereas ghrelin is the hormone most closely associated with hunger, leptin is most well-known for its role in helping us feel full and satisfied after a meal. Hence, its name -- the satiety hormone.
Leptin is secreted by adipocytes (fat cells) and instructs the hypothalamus when we’ve consumed enough energy and do not need to eat anymore, which helps prevent overeating.
When we diet, leptin levels decline, which is why we tend to feel hungrier more often when dieting -- the signal that tells our brains we’ve had enough to eat isn’t as strong as it is when we’re in maintenance or bulking mode.
Similar to impact excess body weight has on the normal function of ghrelin, being overweight or obese also impair leptin function, a condition more commonly known as leptin resistance.
In fact, one study noted that obese individuals can have leptin levels 4x higher than that of normal-weight people.
Under normal conditions, high leptin levels should prevent overeating, but excess body fat prevents leptin from working as it should. Essentially, leptin’s signal doesn’t register properly in the brain, which makes our bodies think they’re starving when in actuality it has far more energy than it possibly needs.
Three known contributors to leptin resistance are excess body fat, chronically elevated insulin levels, and hypothalamic inflammation.[10,11]
How to Control Leptin
For starters, maintaining healthy body weight and favorable body composition helps keep the leptin system functioning properly. Additionally, various studies show that getting sufficient amounts of both exercise and sleep may help maintain leptin sensitivity and function.[12,13]
Lastly, consuming certain “anti-inflammatory” foods, such as fatty fish (which are high in omega-3 fatty acids) and limiting consumption of inflammatory foods (refined sugars, trans fats, etc.) may help, too.
When we think about hormones that regulate our hunger, we almost always think of leptin and ghrelin, but cortisol might just be the most underrated hormone in the body that impacts hunger.
As you probably know, cortisol is the “stress” hormone that is secreted by our adrenal glands whenever we encounter or perceive a threat.
So, what does being stress have to do with hunger?
Again, as you’re all too familiar with, when we are stressed, we tend to crave all the “wrong” types of foods -- that is foods high in fat, sugar, and salt, which cause us to overeat and subsequently gain body fat.
Moreover, chronic stress also encourages the body to store more abdominal fat and can impair insulin function in the body, which hinders your body’s ability to properly use and store glucose.
How to Control Cortisol
Getting enough sleep, meditation, listening to calming music, and not cutting calories too low when dieting all help keep cortisol in check, which has the added effect of keeping hunger and appetite on an even keel.
As the name implies, neuropeptide Y is a peptide hormone secreted by cells in the brain. It stimulates appetite, especially for carbs, and is highest in times of stress, such as prolonged food deprivation or periods of fasting.[17,18]
How to Control Neuropeptide Y
Keeping stress in check is one of the best things you can do to help avoid ravenous hunger pains for carb-rich foods. Additionally, avoiding lengthy fasts (>24 hours) can help prevent neuropeptide Y levels from rising too high.
Finally, consuming diets high in both protein and fiber have been noted to keep levels of neuropeptide Y in check.[20,21]
Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 (GLP-1)
GLP-1 is a peptide hormone produced by cells in the gut when food enters the intestines. It plays a key role in maintaining steady blood sugar levels as well as making us feel full and satisfied.
Research has shown that increasing levels of GLP-1 may help individuals consume fewer calories at mealtime, which support weight loss.
How to Control GLP-1
Various studies show that consuming diets high in protein and green leafy vegetables help increase concentrations of GLP-1, which promotes fullness and satiety, helping stop us from overeating.[23,24]
Avoiding inflammatory foods is also important as some research indicates that chronic inflammation is linked to lower GLP-1 levels.
CCK, much like GLP-1, is another satiety hormone secreted in the gut that promotes satiety. Studies have shown that higher levels of CCK increase feelings of fullness and help reduce calorie intake in both obese and lean individuals.[26,27]
How to Control CCK
Research shows that consuming protein, fiber, and healthy fats all help increase CCK concentrations in the body, which helps keep calorie intake (and ultimately your waistline) in check.[28,29]
Need Help Controlling Hunger?
As we’ve shown several times in this guide, diet, activity, and stress levels all play a role in keeping hunger in check.
Consuming diets high in protein, vegetables, and fiber all help increase satiety and reduce levels of hunger. Additionally, maintaining healthy levels of exercise, mitigating stress, and getting enough sleep every night also play a role in keeping your appetite under wraps.
Even if you’re doing everything “by the book”, sometimes it helps to have some extra help to keep hunger at bay, especially when you’re dieting.
That’s why we created 1UP Appetite Suppressant!
1UP Appetite Suppressant is a non-stimulant diet and weight loss aid scientifically-formulated to help reduce cravings and increase feelings of fullness. We’ve also included ingredients, such as 5-HTP, that support a healthy mood, something which is known to suffer when dieting on low calories.
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