People overeat when drinking alcohol because your brain thinks you are starving, says study

There's a reason behind those late-night binges

Olivia Blair
Monday 16 January 2017 17:00

If you cannot complete a night of drinking without stopping off at McDonalds on the way home and/or raiding your cupboards for pasta when you finally make it home, you can find comfort in the fact there could be a scientific explanation for your behaviour.

A new study published in Nature Communication by the Francis Crick Institute investigated whether a link between alcohol intake and overeating could be determined. The authors noted the link between overeating and drinking alcohol was puzzling because “ethanol (alcohol) is a calorie-dense nutrient and calorie intake usually suppresses brain appetite".

In the study, mice were given ethanol for three days and saline for three days before and after and their food intake was measured. The authors found the food intake was “significantly and reversibly increased” on the days the mice were given ethanol.

“These data suggest that alcohol-induced overeating is an evolutionarily conserved biological phenomenon occurring across mammals, irrespective of aesthetic beliefs and social conditioning,” the study said.

They then studied whether ethanol modulates the hunger signals in the brain and found ethanol concentrations produced a similar cell activation “to that caused by fasting or physiological hunger hormones”.

Therefore, ethanol triggers these signals in the brain and sustains "false ‘starvation alarms’" meaning alcohol makes your brain think it is hungry.

“Overall, these data demonstrate that ethanol evokes a functional remodelling in the brain’s biophysical generators of hunger drive, thereby sustaining false ‘starvation alarms’ despite extra cellular nutrient sufficiency”.

The researchers said their study could also provide an insight into “pathological overeating behaviour linked to morbid disorders”.

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