Ghrelin: the "hunger hormone" explained

Weight loss can be difficult, but maintaining your weight after a diet is even more difficult.

Research shows that a large percentage of dieters recover all the weight they lost in just one year (1). The weight gain is due in part to the appetite of your body and the weight-regulating hormones, which try to maintain and even recover fat (2, 3, 4, 5).

Ghrelin, the "hunger hormone", plays a key role because it tells your brain to eat (6, 7, 8).

Their levels increase during a diet and intensify hunger, which makes weight loss difficult (9, 10).

Here is everything you need to know about this hormone and how to control it.

What is ghrelin?

Ghrelin is a hormone produced in the intestine. It is often called the hunger hormone and is sometimes called lenomorelin.

It travels through your bloodstream and into your brain, where it tells your brain to be hungry and look for food.

The main function of Ghrelin is to increase appetite. It makes you consume more food, eat more calories and store fat (7, 11).

The following graph shows how the rats injected with the hormone had a rapid weight gain (12).

ghrelin levels

In addition, it affects your sleep / wake cycle, reward seeking behavior, taste sensation and carbohydrate metabolism (7, 11).

This hormone is produced in your stomach and is secreted when your stomach is empty. It enters the bloodstream and affects a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which rules its hormones and appetite (11, 13).

The higher your levels, the more hungry you will be. The lower your levels, the fuller you will feel and the easier it will be to eat fewer calories.

So, if you want to lose weight, lowering ghrelin levels can be beneficial.

Ghrelin may sound like a terrible hormone that destroys the diet. However, in the past it played a role in survival by helping people maintain a healthy level of body fat.

These days, if you eat little or struggle to gain weight, higher levels of ghrelin can help you consume more food and calories per day.

Bottom line: Ghrelin is a hormone that sends a signal to your brain to feel hungry. It plays a key role in the regulation of caloric intake and body fat levels.

What causes ghrelin to rise?

Ghrelin levels generally increase before a meal, when your stomach is empty. Then they diminish soon after, when their stomach is full (14).

While it may assume that obese people have higher levels, they may be more sensitive to its effects. In fact, some research shows that their levels are actually lower than in thin people (15, 16, 17).

Other research suggests that obese people may have an overly active ghrelin receptor, known as GHS-R, which leads to an increase in caloric intake (6, 7).

However, regardless of the amount of body fat you have, ghrelin levels increase and you feel hungry when you start a diet. This is a natural response of your body, which tries to protect you from starvation.

During a diet, your appetite increases and your leptin levels, the "hormone of fullness," decrease. Your metabolic rate also tends to decrease significantly, especially when you restrict calories for long periods of time (18, 19).

For obvious reasons, these adaptations can make it much more difficult to lose weight and not get it back.

Your hormones and metabolism adjust to try to recover all the weight you lost.

Bottom line: Ghrelin levels may increase during the diet, which increases hunger and hinders weight loss.

How their levels change during a diet

Within a day of starting a diet, your ghrelin levels will begin to rise. This change continues for weeks.

A study in humans found a 24% increase in ghrelin levels in a 6-month diet (20).

In another 3-month weight loss diet study, researchers found that levels almost doubled from 770 to 1,322 pmol / liter (21).

During a 6-month bodybuilding diet, which reaches an extremely low level of body fat through severe dietary restrictions, ghrelin increased by 40% (22).

These trends suggest that the longer you make your diet, and the more body fat and muscle mass you lose, the higher your levels will rise.

This makes you more hungry, so it becomes much harder to maintain your new weight.

Bottom line: Ghrelin levels increase significantly in a diet to lose weight. The longer the diet, the more your levels will increase.

How to lower ghrelin and reduce hunger

Ghrelin appears to be a hormone that can not be controlled directly with medications, diets or supplements.

However, there are some things you can do to help maintain healthy levels:

  • Avoid the extremes of weight: Both obesity and anorexia alter ghrelin levels (23, 24)

  • Prioritize the dream: Lack of sleep increases their levels, and has been linked to increased hunger and weight gain (25, 26).

  • Increase muscle mass: Larger amounts of fat-free muscle or mass are associated with lower levels (27, 28, 29).

  • Eat more protein: A diet high in protein increases fullness and reduces hunger. One of the mechanisms behind this is a reduction in ghrelin levels (30).

  • Maintain a stable weight: Drastic weight changes and yo-yo dieting disrupt key hormones, including ghrelin (31).

  • Cycle of your calories: Higher calorie intake periods can reduce hunger hormones and increase leptin. One study found that 2 weeks with 29-45% more calories decreased ghrelin levels by 18% (32).

Bottom line: Maintaining a stable weight, avoiding long periods of diet, eating more protein and sleeping more can help optimize ghrelin levels.

Bring the message home

Ghrelin is a very important hunger hormone.

Play an important role in hunger, appetite and food intake. Because of this, it can have great effects on your success with weight loss and maintenance.

By having a sustainable and pleasurable diet plan, you can avoid the yo-yo diet that causes large fluctuations in weight and adversely affects your hormones.

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