Hungry Hormone May be Barrier to Stress Induced Depression

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Field mice placed on a calorie controlled diet as part of a major piece of US based research have allowed researchers to discover ‘ghrelin.’ This is a hormone that appears to increase when we don’t eat, and in its finding may be the key to fighting symptoms of anxiety and depression brought about through stress.
Senior author Dr Jeffrey Zigman led the study, he is the assistant professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at the University of Texas (UT) southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. The research has been published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. There is one unfortunate draw back and side effect according to the doctor of this line of research. That is the increased food intake and body weight that comes with combating the symptoms by this means.

Another of the lead authors of the study a Dr Michael Lutter has stated; “Our findings support the idea that these hunger hormones don’t do just one thing; rather, they coordinate an entire behavioral response to stress and probably affect mood, stress and energy levels.”

It was already known that the process of not eating, does cause the production of ghrelin, the result is that a great many hunger signals are sent to the brain by the hormone. Suggestions have been made in the past that a blocking of this hormone may be useful in implementing weight control. Doing such a thing, it has been uncovered by this study would play and interfere with the natural rhythm of the body, and the means by which the body handles stress and anxiety.

The study team placed ‘wild type’ (i.e. natural and non-genetically modified) mice on a diet that was calorie restricted. The diet was to go on over a period of 10 days. In this period four times the regular amount of ghrelin was produced by the mice. It was evident that as a consequence of the elevated levels when the mice were forced to swim and take on stressful mazes they showed reduced symptoms of anxiety, than did their counterparts who had not had their diet restricted.

Mice which were altered genetically were then bred. These mice had bodies that would not show a response to this ‘hungry hormone,’ they too were placed on the restricted diet. It was evident when they were put through the same stressful mazes and swims that the levels of stress and anxiety leading to depression that they experienced, were at normal levels. It was found that there wasn’t the same anti depressing effect in the mice where ghrelin had no effect.

A third test was also conducted, its fundamental was in researching and exploring social stress, here they used both the ‘wild type’ and the genetically engineered mice. Instead of making them swim and run mazes they introduced both types of mice to other aggressive mice every day, the bullying effects of these aggressive mice is quite similar in how humans are effected, and the symptoms we produce as a result are also similar.
The amount of ghrelin produced by both sets of mice was elevated to a point where it lasted for more than a month when the ‘bullying’ was finished. It was in the genetically modified mice where social avoidance symptoms began to show. Much of their activities from that point on showed symptoms of depression like reduced food intake.

The explanation offered by the scientists is the ‘survival advantage’ that has developed in animals through evolution. This advantage allows us to take in enough food to stave off death. Back on the human front it has been determined that nature would see it fit for us to be calm and collected creatures ,as this ability goes hand in hand with being a hunter gatherer.

It has been extrapolated that ghrelin when induced through hunger brings about the anti anxiety in order to give us the edge when it was needed most. There have been deductions made that this may be what happens in sufferers of anorexia nervosa also.

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