Cravings for fatty food linked to gut-brain connection - study

Woman eating doughnut
This is what is driving your craving for fatty food, according to science. Photo credit: Age Fotostock via Cover Media

Some days it may seem like the deliciousness of a doughnut is hard to resist; but according to new research, cravings for junk food aren't just about the taste buds, as it seems there is a connection between the gut and the brain that drives our desire for fat.

"We live in unprecedented times, in which the overconsumption of fats and sugars is causing an epidemic of obesity and metabolic disorders," said first author Dr Mengtong Li. 

"If we want to control our insatiable desire for fat, science is showing us that the key conduit driving these cravings is a connection between the gut and the brain."

At Columbia's Zuckerman Institute, scientists studying mice found that fat entering the intestines triggers a signal which drives a desire for fatty foods. They also discovered that glucose activates a specific gut-brain circuit that communicates to the brain in the presence of intestinal sugar. As part of the experiment, Dr Li also blocked the activity of these cells using a drug, amid other genetic techniques, and found this caused a mouse to lose its appetite for fat.

"These interventions verified that each of these biological steps from the gut to the brain is critical for an animal's response to fat," continued Dr Li. 

"These experiments also provide novel strategies for changing the brain's response to fat and possibly behaviour toward food."

In response to the findings, Dr Scott Sternson, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California, highlighted its potential for improving human health.

"This exciting study offers insight about the molecules and cells that compel animals to desire fat," he added. 

"[The ability] of researchers to control this desire may eventually lead to treatments that may help combat obesity by reducing consumption of high-calorie fatty foods."

The full results of the study have been published in the journal Nature.

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