Have you ever had ghrelin attack you so hard that it felt like a punch to the gut, and the only way to relieve it was through eating? If you have ever struggled with obesity, you know that you have experienced this. When ghrelin attacks, it is enough to drive us insane until we begin chowing down on something delicious. I know this from my own personal experience with binge eating. Ghrelin is no joke, but it can be tamed.
What is Ghrelin?
Ghrelin is the hunger hormone that tells our brain it’s time to eat. This hormone is produced in the stomach and travels through your bloodstream to your brain where it tells you that it is time to eat. It’s what makes you feel hungry. The main function of ghrelin is to increase your appetite, consume more food, and to store those excess calories as fat.
Ghrelin affects your sleep/wake cycle, reward-seeking behavior, taste sensation and carbohydrate metabolism. When our stomach is empty, it produces and secretes ghrelin which enters the bloodstream and then travels to the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which governs your hormones and appetite. The more ghrelin you produce, the hungrier you get. Ghrelin attacks with a viciousness for some of us, but it can also be controlled with a bit of knowledge and effort on your part.
Managing Your Ghrelin
Ghrelin is an important hormone that does more than make us “HANGRY” when it attacks. Ghrelin also regulates glucose homeostasis by inhibiting insulin secretion and regulating gluconeogenesis/glycogenolysis. Ghrelin signaling decreases thermogenesis to regulate energy expenditure. Ghrelin improves the survival prognosis of myocardial infarction by reducing sympathetic nerve activity. Ghrelin prevents muscle atrophy by inducing muscle differentiation and fusion. Ghrelin also regulates bone formation and metabolism by modulating proliferation and differentiation of osteoblasts. (1)
Obviously, ghrelin is important to our health, but it can also be detrimental when it gets out of control. When ghrelin attacks and you let it keep winning the battles, the result can be found with your obesity. So, how do we fight this war from within?
- Get proper sleep. Most people really need between seven to nine hours of good sleep. Anything less than seven hours increases our production of ghrelin while decreasing the hormone leptin which tells our brain that we are full. This is an important component of keeping our bodies in balance.
- Manage your stress. Chronic stress leads to overeating, poor food choices, increased alcohol consumption and impaired sleep. In a study from 2016, exposure to stress was shown to alter the ghrelin levels and alteration in ghrelin levels significantly affects neuro-endocrinological parameters; metabolism-related physiology, behavior and mood. (1) Make your world small by engaging in stress reducing activities like being outdoors, exercising, meditation, journaling, prayer, being creative and surrounding yourself with loving friends and family. These are all ways of decreasing stress and balancing ghrelin levels.
- Exercise. Regular physical activity improves overall hormonal balance, weight and a sense of wellness. Before beginning any new exercise routine, always be sure that you first have your doctor’s approval.
- Eat whole foods and quit eating foods with added sugars, and processed foods! Follow our plan here at David’s Way to Health and Fitness and learn to eat a proper balance of macronutrients and micronutrients, all within your caloric needs. When you crash diet, or restrict your calories too much, ghrelin levels increase and poor food choices and cravings will increase.
- Protein can slow gastric emptying and provides satiety. Adding protein to your meals helps with satiety by improving leptin sensitivity.
- Consuming healthy fats can also decrease ghrelin levels. Healthy fats that contain omega 3 fatty acids such as fatty fish, chia and flax seeds and nuts will boost leptin and keep ghrelin in check.
- High fiber foods stretch your stomach and balance your hunger hormones.
- Avoid high-fructose corn syrup and sugar-sweetened drinks, which can impair ghrelin response after meals
When ghrelin attacks, don’t be a victim!
It is not uncommon to feel like the odds are stacked against us when it comes to achieving sustainable weight loss. But, it’s important for you to understand that we actually do have a great deal of control over our hormones, as they do respond in our favor to dietary, exercise and stress-related changes we make. Your aim when it comes to losing weight is to focus on setting up a healthy food environment that encourages nutrient-dense eating, managing stress, moving our bodies consistently and making smart food choices long-term.
- (1) CentreSpringsMD