Mystery of Appetite Suppression

by Christine on September 16th, 2011

filed under Gastric Banding Surgery

As I was reading up on the whole process behind appetite, hunger levels, and appetite suppression, I kept coming across information about a hormone called Ghrelin. This is my own take on the information that I’m reading.

Ghrelin is a hormone produced by cells in the stomach and pancreas that stimulates hunger. Before you eat a meal, ghrelin levels rize, consequently signaling to your brain “Hey man! I’m hungry!”  To turn off the ghrelin, people typically eat food; if you eat enough food, ghrelin decreases and you’re less hungry.

Ghrelin is regulated by the hypothalamus, which we have no mental control over. No amount of “willpower” can change how the hypothalamus works.  However, the gastric band can actually work to control your hypothalamus!  When normal people eat, the foo consumed stretches the upper stomach as it works its way en route to the lower stomach. When this streching happens, the hypothalamus sends out a hormone (pro-opiomelanocortin), which suppresses ghrelin. If you don’t eat, the upper stomach isn’t stretched, so you’re hungry.

With gastric band patients, when you eat, your food remains in the upper stomach for a longer than normal period, keeping the upper stomach stretched out. Consequently gastric band patients feel full after just a few bites of food.  Smart patients will quit eating soon after that, or at least moderate the amount of food that they eat. (It is very easy to get used to the “full” feeling and start to ignore it.)

This is one reason why your doctor tells you not to drink when you’re eating food. Liquids will help wash that food out of your upper stomach, into your lower stomach, thereby reducing the amount of “stretch time” you’re getting. Consequently you’re more apt to feel hungry sooner after your meal.  I would think that foods that are more fiberous, that stay in the upper stomach (take a little more time to break down), may also help you feel fuller for longer.

Interestingly, there have been a lot of studies that show that mere surgery alone can have an effect on ghrelin levels. Gastric bypass patients have been known to show an actual drop in ghrelin levels following surgery, where as gastric banding patients experience a drop in hunger but not in actual ghrelin. With sleeve gastrectomy, the area of the stomach that produces ghrelin is removed.

Researchers apparently are working on some miracle anti-obesity vaccine right now that would prevent ghrelin from reaching the central nervous system, thereby helping to suppress the appetite and preventing weight gain. Preliminary studies are being done on rodents and pigs.

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