The Hungry Brain

We are looking at an article written by Dan Hurley, back when a major corner was being turned, in terms of what researchers thought they should be looking for, versus what actually turned out to be the case. Dan Hurley describes several twists and turns in that search. At the time, neurobiologists were beginning to catch on that the brain, not the stomach, is the mastermind behind hunger.

They assumed that their search would be for one of those legendary silver bullets, a simple hormonal answer that would obligingly instruct the brain to signal “too much” or at the very least, to recognize the signpost of “enough.” But it was not meant to be. Dan Hurley wrote for Discover magazine,

The latest studies show that a multitude of systems in the brain act in concert to encourage eating. Targeting a single neuronal system is probably doomed to the same ill fate as the failed diets themselves. Because the brain has so many backup systems all geared toward the same thing — maximizing the body’s intake of calories — no single silver bullet will ever work.

The “hungry brain” referenced in our title was contributed by biomedical researcher Hans-Rudolf Berthoud’s phrase, “hungry brain syndrome.”  The brain has two elementary motives: to make us eat, and to make us defend against the loss of any fat we have already gained from eating. How could we convince the brain to stop telling us to eat, and stop telling us to desperately hang onto body fat?

The hormones

To many people, hormones are the chemicals that induce us to flirt with members of the opposite sex, and then partner with them to reproduce more members of our species. But they do so much more. Leptin, as we have seen, is supposed to tell our hypothalamus when we have had enough to eat. Could supplementary leptin be introduced into the system to curb the appetite? Some early experiments with mice seemed promising, but the leptinizing of humans turned out to be a dead end, at least as far as promoting weight loss. It does seem helpful in maintaining weight loss that has already been accomplished.

While leptin says “stop eating,” ghrelin says “swallow everything you can wrap your mouth around.” Originating in the gut, it creates the sensation of hunger and interferes with the metabolism, to jam up the works and preserve the body’s fat. All right then, could ghrelin be induced to behave itself? Only if significant portions of the body are removed via gastric bypass surgery. Hurley writes,

For dieters, the more weight lost, the greater the rise in ghrelin, as if the body were telling the brain to get hungry and regain that weight. By contrast, the big losers in the surgical group saw ghrelin levels fall to the floor. Surgical patients never felt increases in appetite and had an easier time maintaining their weight loss as a result. (A newer weight-loss surgery removes most of the ghrelin-producing cells outright.)

One might ask, what does this have to do with the BrainWeighve mobile application?

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A New Suspect in the Obesity Epidemic: Our Brains,”, 08/22/11
Image by Dierk Schaefer/CC BY 2.0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources