Stomach hormones help trigger junk food cravings

By Marrisa K. Lyons • Published: November 10th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

During a tough day, nothing gets you by like comfort food. When emotions run high, a pint of decadent ice cream just seems to make things better. We cling to food as our life raft during stressful times because we associate it with pleasantness, right? Well, a new study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggests that taste and memory might not be the only factors causing us to reach for foods high in sugar and fat.

The study is one of the first to show that the effect food plays on mood is independent of pleasant stimuli. While the good feelings associated with junk food do play a role, it appears that the hormones in our stomachs do, too. The study found that these hormones interact with our brains.

Unlike other studies done on food and the emotion tied to it, this study eliminated the subjective aspect. Instead of taking into account the entire eating experience, including taste and smell, only the nutrients in the food were considered. The volunteers for the study were given food through an unmarked stomach tube. The experiment found that saturated fat made the volunteers happier. In other words, the more saturated fat sitting in their stomachs, the less likely they were to experience negative emotions.

While it is clear that the hormones in our stomachs definitely influence our brains and our junk food consumption, what actually causes this is still unclear. Also researchers don’t know if the bodies of obese people send the same signals after indulging in high-fat foods.

The scientists say this link between fattening foods and happy feelings likely helped our ancient selves survive in a world where food wasn’t always plentiful.

And it does help us get one step closer to solving one of the most important questions modern society faces: why resisting french fries and a cheeseburger is oh so hard.