Have you ever wondered why you can’t eat just one chip or a single fry?
It’s not just the carbohydrates at fault.
The craving for fatty foods may stem from biological elements and brain signals.
Endocannabinoids Make Fatty Foods Tempting
University of California, Irvine professor Daniele Piomelli, and colleagues found that fats in these foods make them nearly irresistible and trigger a surprising biological mechanism that likely drives us to eat more.
The reason? Natural marijuana-like chemicals in the body called endocannabinoids.
“This is the first demonstration that endocannabinoid signaling in the gut plays an important role in regulating fat intake,” added Piomelli, the Louise Turner Arnold Chair in the Neurosciences and professor of pharmacology. Study results appear in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In their study, the Piomelli team discovered that when rats tasted something fatty, cells in their upper gut started producing endocannabinoids. Sugars and proteins, the researchers noted, did not have this effect.
The process starts on the tongue, where fats in food generate a signal that travels first to the brain and then through a nerve bundle called the vagus to the intestines.
There, the signal stimulates the production of endocannabinoids, which initiates a surge in cell signaling that prompts the wanton intake of fatty foods, Piomelli said, probably by initiating the release of digestive chemicals linked to hunger and satiety that compel us to eat more. (Learn about weight loss hormones: Increase Metabolism with the Fat Burning Hormone Leptin)
Eating Fatty Foods Contributes to Weight Gain, Obesity, and More
Piomelli said that from an evolutionary standpoint, there’s a compelling need for animals to consume fats, which are scarce in nature but crucial for proper cell functioning. In contemporary human society, however, fats are readily available, and the innate drive to eat fatty foods leads to obesity, diabetes and cancer.
Blocking Cravings for Fatty Foods
The findings suggest it might be possible to curb this tendency by obstructing endocannabinoid activity – for example, by using drugs that “clog” cannabinoid receptors. Since these drugs wouldn’t need to enter the brain, they shouldn’t cause the central side effects — anxiety and depression — seen when endocannabinoid signaling is blocked in the brain, Piomelli noted.
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PNAS. Published online July 5, 201. “Body’s natural marijuana-like chemicals make fatty foods hard to resist,” Daniele Piomelli, Director of the UCI School of Medicine’s Center for Drug Discovery & Development
Source: University of California Irvine