Alcohol may encourage binge eating: Research

Alcohol may encourage binge eating: Research

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Many have long suspected that alcohol, in addition to being a calorific itself, isn’t a dieter’s best friend as it can lead to binge eating. And now there’s research back this up. According to a study, if there’s food aroma wafting around and you have alcohol in your system, it can trigger your brain to crave food and lead you to eat more than you otherwise would.

The study, published by the American Obesity Society, was undertaken by researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine and looked at data from 35 women participants. None of these women were obese and all were healthy. They were split into two groups. All women were given breakfast and lunch. The lunch, however, was a considerable time (eight hours) after eating breakfast.

The women all had their brains scanned an hour or two before they were given lunch. This was done to determine how they responded to food and non-food related smells. During this scan, one group of women were intravenously (IV) injected with an alcohol solution. The other group were administered a saline solution. The women were then exposed to cooking odours. To compare results, there was also a non-food odour present in the air.

Researchers found that the women who were administered a “happy buzz” by the alcohol IV showed higher activity levels in the hypothalamus, a central node of the brain’s reward system, when compared with the women who were only on the saline IV.

During lunch, a majority (two-thirds) of the women with alcohol in their system ate more than those who had just gotten the saline IV. Surprisingly, about one third of the women who were given the alcohol IV ate less. It was also found that women who consumed alcohol had lower levels of the hormone ghrelin in their blood. This hormone sends signals to the brain that hunger is sated. Women with lowered levels of this hormone in their blood tended to show bigger appetites.

Researchers could not pinpoint the exact cause for these findings. It could be that a women’s reaction to food after consuming alcohol could predict her tendency towards weight gain or alcohol addiction. It could even be that consuming alcohol creates unreliable signaling within the body regarding appetite.

While the study was conducted on a limited sample in the US, it may have application in India as well. Recently there has been a surge in alcohol consumption amongst Indian women. The per capita consumption of alcohol in India has increased by 55% in the 20-year period from 1992-2012, according to a report by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The report also points out a sharp increase in binge drinking, particularly among young people and women India.

What’s more, liquor consumption by Indian women is predicted to rise by 25% in the next five years, according to the Indian Centre for Alcohol Studies (INCAS), a government research body.

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