Finally, a little comfort that our inability to refuse cheesecake at any given moment is more than just a ‘self control’ problem.
A new study from Dartmouth College has found that the things we crave – from decadent food to sex – depend on the way our brains are wired, thus suggesting that giving into temptation has more to do with genetics than sheer will power.
Researchers studied 58 Dartmouth freshman females, 48 of whom returned six months later for a follow-up behavioral session. Participants underwent an fMRI session within the first month of arriving at college. To ensure a pure state of mind, the women were asked to refrain from eating, consuming alcohol or caffeine, or smoking for two hours prior to their session. Before the scan began, the freshmen were weighed, had their BMIs calculated, and then asked a set of questions to assess their current state of hunger and activity level.
The participants’ brains were then scanned while they were shown a variety of images, including animals, food, people drinking alcohol, people in sexual scenes, and environmental scenes.
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If a dieter decreases their calories, they also decrease their brain cells’ calories. This process has recently been researched and linked to the ultimate demise of most diets. As the hungry brain cells signal the body of that hunger, appetite increases, and metabolism slows. But what if the brain couldn’t send out those signals? That’s a whole new arena we’ve never been to before.
Recently, researchers have created mice whose brains can not send out hunger signals or appetite-increasing proteins. These mice were found to be leaner and ate less even after they were starved. It’s believed that these results would apply to humans since mice are often used as human biological models.
In the study the scientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York were able to isolate the appetite-sensing neurons in the mice. These neurons are the culprits for increasing autophagy, a process where cells break down their used parts. When the breakdown of cells is increased, appetite-inducing proteins are released. Ultimately, the brain is told it’s time to eat due to these proteins.
When the researchers turned this process in the mice, their appetite-inducing proteins stayed low and even in times of starvation, the hunger signals stopped. Compared to normal mice, the mutant mice were 10 percent leaner, capable of burning more energy, and were more active. One of the most revealing facts was that these mice still ate less even after food was withheld to the point of starvation.
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