Do you cope with stress by cozying up to chocolate, or munching on salty potato chips?
If you think it’s weakness, don’t be so hard on yourself – because according to Japanese researchers, who’ve identified neurons that drive our cravings for carbs, these activated neurons are responsible for increased appetites during times of social stress.
The team at Japan’s National Institute for Physiological Sciences found that these neurons elevated the appetite of carbs in mice in their clinical study. The rodents with neurons activated opted for high-carbohydrate food at a rate of three times the mice under normal conditions did.
They also roughly halved their intake of high-fat food, the study found.
This research is the first to show how the brain influences our preference for carbohydrates or fats, said Yasuhiko Minokoshi, a scientist at the institute, who led the study. This new data can one day help find or create an alternative for people to shift away from unhealthy snacking on sugary treats and junk food.
Until now, it was generally accepted we eat what we like based on taste, and the nutritional state of our bodies. Now, the mechanisms involved are no longer a mystery, and point to our noggins.
“Many people who eat sweets too much when stressed tend to blame themselves for being unable to control their impulses,” Minokoshi told AFP.
“But if they know it’s because of the neurons, they might not be so hard on themselves.”
Despite the convincing evidence collected, Minokoshi warns that it’ll still be tough to implement these findings towards bettering human diets. For example, simply suppressing the activation of these neurons may lead to side effects, considering their other important functions to our bodies.
“However, if we could find a particular molecule in the neurons and target it specifically to suppress part of its activities, it could curb excessive eating of carbohydrate-heavy food,” he explained.
But, a substance used to activate it manually could be used to treat people consuming excessive fat.
The study is to be published in the online edition of the U.S. journal Cell Reports in the coming days.
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