Appetite-Regulating Hormones May Block Cravings for Alcohol, Suggests Study

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Yaneff__191215Holiday parties and get-togethers increase opportunities to eat more food and consume greater amounts of alcohol. Overconsumption of food and alcohol is a problem for lots of people at this time.

Excessive alcohol drinking can result in alcohol addiction. It is estimated that 12.5% of the American population will depend on alcohol at some point during their life. Overeating can lead to weight gain and weight issues. Another two-thirds of Americans are considered overweight or obese. Many would want a way to turn off food and alcohol cravings if they could.

There are two hormones that regulate your appetite. These “hunger hormones” are called ghrelin and leptin. Leptin will reduce appetite, whereas ghrelin increases appetite, and plays a vital role in weight gain and a person’s cravings or hunger.

In a new study, researchers from Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island suggested that the interaction between ghrelin and leptin may help develop new treatment options for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Ghrelin and leptin are both peptides thought to affect a person’s craving for alcohol. The study was recently presented at the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP) 26th Annual Meeting at Huntington Beach, California.

Studies from the past 10 years have looked at certain brain neurotransmitters that moderate alcohol use, including dopamine. It is thought that dopamine is responsible for keeping the brain going.

Some medications used to treat moderate to severe alcohol use disorder, include naltrexone, disulfiram, acamprosate, ondansetron, baclofen, lithium, and sertraline. Although the AUD drugs help certain people, many others cannot take these medications due to the lack of effectiveness or side effects.

The researchers have previously found that the effects of appetite-regulation hormones on alcohol use display similar craving patterns. In other words, the cravings for food and sugar are comparable in AUD. People lose a lot of weight from weight loss surgery, but they tend to relapse for AUD. In certain cases, people will crave alcohol even though they have no history of alcohol abuse problems.

In weight loss surgery, the physician will cut a piece of the stomach, and reconnect at a different location. The ghrelin produced in the stomach is suppressed, and later ghrelin production starts up again after stomach tissue regeneration. This explains increased cravings for food and alcohol.

For the current study, the researchers examined the relationship between leptin and ghrelin in alcohol cravings with 45 alcohol-dependent and non-treatment-seeking participants. They had to be individuals who were not seeking treatment since the researchers didn’t want to put those that want to quit drinking into a replicated real-life bar scenario. The research team even had a research assistant act as a bartender.

The participants received either a placebo or intravenous ghrelin injection. The participants had also been exposed to craving cues by smelling water, juice, and alcohol.

Leptin and ghrelin levels were measured before and throughout the ghrelin intravenous process. The ghrelin infusion significantly lowered leptin levels when compared to the placebo. There were also higher ghrelin levels when leptin levels were lower.

The researchers found that higher ghrelin in the blood produced greater cravings for alcohol and juice. By comparison, leptin stopped cravings for alcohol; however, it did not affect cravings for juice.

“It’s the first study of its kind,” said the study’s lead researcher Dr. Elie G. Aoun. “No one has ever looked at the effect of leptin on alcohol, but lots of people have looked at the effects of ghrelin. Our results show that the field is going in the right direction.”

Sources for Today’s Article:
Lowry, F., “Appetite-Regulating Hormones May Block Alcohol Cravings,” Medscape Multispecialty web site, December 15, 2015;

Magee, E., “Your ‘Hunger Hormones,’” WebMD web site;, last accessed December 16, 2015.
Murray, M., M.D., et al, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (New York: Atria Paperback, 2012), 265.
“Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (cont.),”;, last accessed December 16, 2015.