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How can we switch off hunger in the brain?

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Many of us think that controlling our food cravings and sticking to a diet depend largely on our willpower, but our biology has a different story to tell. Now, new research shows that a complex interplay between calories, digestion hormones, and neurons determines what we eat and when.

 What happens in our brain when we’re hungry, and is there anything we can do to shut down the feeling?

While there may be some eating habits that we can control, our biology determines much of our appetite, and there’s more and more research that confirms this.

For instance, at Medical News Today, we have recently reported on a study that identified a class of glial brain cells in our hypothalamus – that is, the appetite-controlling area of our brain – which, when activated by certain nutrients, “tell us” to stop eating.

Another recent study found that a hormone called asprosin “turns on” our appetite-stimulating neurons and “turns off” our appetite-suppressing neurons.

Now, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia – led by J. Nicholas Betley, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology in the university’s School of Arts and Sciences – delve deeper into the interplay between our gut and our brain.

The researchers looked at what it is that triggers our appetite-stimulating neurons, and – more importantly for our weight management efforts – what it is that switches them off.

The findings, which were published in the journal Cell Reports, may change how we think about overeating and obesity and may soon lead to wholly new therapies and weight loss strategies.

What are AgRP neurons?

The so-called agouti-related protein-expressing neurons (AgRP) are neurons in our hypothalamus that become activated when we are hungry. As Betley explains, “When these neurons are firing, they’re basically telling you, ‘You’d better go get food; you’re starving.’”–Agencies

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