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Obesity Disrupts Natural Nighttime Hunger Hormone

Lean people experience a huge nighttime surge of ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates hunger, but obese people don't, according to a new study. Obesity suppresses the ghrelin spike, perhaps disrupting the body's internal cues for hunger and overpowering its ability to regulate appetite, researchers say.

Ghrelin helps the body control its weight as part of a complex system that regulates food intake and energy output. Researchers certainly expected to find a different ghrelin pattern in obese people, but they were shocked that it happened at night. The problem: Scientists speculate obese people have developed biological mechanisms that make them resistant to their own hormones.

Cells in the stomach secrete ghrelin into the blood, where it rises and falls in predictable daily patterns--spiking before meals when people are hungry and dropping after they eat.

However, scientists found the most powerful ghrelin surge was missing in the obese men, suggesting that their regulatory system had gone awry or could no longer listen to its own cues.

EurekAlert June 28, 2004

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