The hunger hormone that hijacks your brain

At the very core, hunger is a chemical experience. It’s regulated by a crucial interplay between two hormones, called leptin (your hunger’s “red light”) and ghrelin (your hunger’s “green light”).

But when these hunger hormones are out of whack, chaos ensues. You’re far more likely to ditch your healthy habits and grab whatever junk is within reach. But the effects go beyond just food choices.

According to a new study, being hungry can affect your overall decision-making abilities.

A team of scientists trained rats to expect a reward — notably, in the form of sugar — when they pressed a lever. But they also trained the same rats to expect an even bigger reward for not pressing the lever when given a different signal.

Then the scientists gave the rats a shot of ghrelin to replicate hunger signals to the brain.

When the rats’ brains were exposed to extra ghrelin, they just couldn’t resist pressing that lever — even when the “no-go” signal sounded, and they knew that waiting would result in a better reward.

I’ve written at length about how hormones — especially the ones that regulate appetite — can hijack your best efforts to lose weight and get healthy. And this research just offers further proof of that fact.

But it’s also a good reminder not to make important decisions, dietary or otherwise, when your stomach’s growling.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that the high-sugar, high-carb Standard American Diet has a lot to do with perpetuating this particular phenomenon. As this experiment shows, when sugar is the “reward,” all bets are off.

So you may have already guessed the antidote to a hormone-hijacked brain. If you want to keep your ghrelin levels more stable throughout the day, there’s at least one easy way to do it: Ditch the Special K and eat a high-protein breakfast, like steak and eggs instead.