Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The aPPetite Center: hyPothaLamus

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The desire to eat, or appetite, is controlled by the appetite center of the brain, also known as the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is influenced by a complex interaction of hormones, the digestive tract, and the nervous system. If a persons stomach is empty,
the blood sugar level decreases, and a message goes to the hypothalamus. When a persons blood sugar is low, serotonin levels may also be low, and in addition to feeling hungry a person could feel irritable and have a heightened craving for foods that release serotonin, including foods high in carbohydrates. Foods high in carbohydrates include cake, cookies, and crackers that quickly break down into sugar available to the body for energy.As a result of low blood sugar levels and low serotonin, thehypothalamus is stimulated and a person feels hunger. Once a person has eaten enough, serotonin is produced, which creates a feel- ing of being full instead of a feeling of hunger. An individual can easily associate a late afternoon  slice of cake with these increased levels of serotonin and develop a habit that is dif-ficult to break.Stress, hormones, and depression also affect levels of chem- icals in the body, such as serotonin, thus triggering the desire to eat. Some researchers, such as Dr. Judith Wurman, author of Managing Your Mind and Mood Through Food, believe that many obese people treat their blah feelings by indulging in carbohydrate-rich foods that boost their serotonin levels and therefore improve their mood, at least temporarily. This pat- tern of seeking out foods rich in carbohydrates to treat blahfeelings often leaves the individual feeling worse as the body floods the bloodstream with insulin and blood sugar levels dip, also know as a sugar crash. Despite the resulting sugar crash, the pursuit of carbohydrate-rich foods is a difficult habit to break for a person trying to boost his or her mood through food. The relationship between cravings and serotonin levels encouraged the use of drugs, such as sibutramine, which boost serotonin levels to promote weight loss.Appetite, however, is not strictly driven by the quantity and timing of the most recent meal. A change in hormones, for example, such as those associated with pregnancy, could increase appetite. Illness or stress could cause a decrease or increase in appetite. Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted under stress. Women with higher levels of cortisol have been found in research experiments to snack on higher-fat foods than  those  with  lower cortisol  levels. Cortisol  is just  one example of a hormone  released by the body that influences eating habits.One way to control the desire to eat is to alter the signaling system in the brain that stimulates appetite. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that carry messages between the brains neurons. In the case of the neurotransmitter  serotonin, this signaling system lets the body know it is full or hungry.
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