A research team from the UT Southwestern Medical Center has found that ghrelin, the so-called 'hunger hormone', is involved in triggering people to crave for high calorie pleasure foods, such as chocolates, mashed potatoes and ice creams during times of stress.
"This helps explain certain complex eating behaviors and may be one of the mechanisms by which obesity develops in people exposed to psychosocial stress," said Dr. Jeffrey Zigman, assistant professor of internal medicine and psychiatry.
"We think these findings are not just abstract and relevant only to mice, but likely are also relevant to humans," he added.
Scientists are aware that fasting causes ghrelin to be released from the gastrointestinal tract, following which, the hormone plays a role in sending hunger signals to the brain.
The study on mice showed that the stress-induced rise in ghrelin lead to overeating and increased body weight, suggesting a mechanism for the increased prevalence of weight-related issues observed in humans with chronic stress and depression.
"Our findings show that ghrelin signaling is crucial to this particular behavior and that the increase in ghrelin which occurs as a result of chronic stress is probably behind these food-reward behaviors," Zigman added.
The study appears online in a future print edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.