Am I full? Can I eat some more? Could I still be hungry?

Many of us experience these mixed signals that drive us to overeat, and now new research has revealed the cause. There isn’t just one, but dozens of hormones involved in sending hunger signals to the brain, from the stomach, intestine, fat tissue, etc. Experts are trying to decode how those signalling centres work to develop targeted therapies.

Dr Judith Korner, professor of medicine who runs the Weight Control Center at Columbia University Medical Center, New York, has recently made some interesting breakthroughs in this area of research. “We are learning that the gut is an endocrine organ, and when you eat, it sends out hormones that actually talk to the brain,” she says in an interview to
For e.g., one slice of pizza may be enough to satisfy one person, whereas another person may need to eat half the pizza. But it is not always that the one-slice person is exercising willpower; it may just mean that they are getting signals—hormonal signals and signals from the gut—that the other person is not receiving.

People are obese, or they eat for different reasons, says Dr Korner. “We are trying to figure out where their signalling centres(i.e., when you should be hungry and how much food it takes for you to become full) may be off,” she has said.

This major breakthrough in determining the cause of obesity is as important as the discovery of the hormone leptin almost two decades earlier. Leptin, which is made in fat tissue, talks to the brain, telling it how much fat is available.

Apart from medications that will target specific appetite regulatory signals as opposed to general medications to rev up your system, Dr Korner predicts that combination therapy will be used to prevent obesity. “If you look at diabetes or hypertension, one drug is often not enough. You may need a beta-blocker together with a diuretic and an ACE inhibitor. I believe that is how we should look at obesity treatment,” she says, adding that a device that undertakes electrical pacing of the stomach to provide a sense of fullness when people eat may also hit the market.

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