I’ve just read something fascinating that I wanted to share with you.
Until recently, it was thought all the nerve cells in the brain associated with appetite regulation were produced during the embryonic stage, so the circuitry controlling appetite was believed to be ‘fixed’.
However, it’s been recently discovered that the brain’s appetite circuits could be “rewired.”
This provides clues as to how this part of the brain, specifically the hypocampus, can be adapted to reduce appetite and lose weight.
The researchers suggest that this knowledge could eventually be used to develop novel treatments for binge eating and obesity.
They looked at a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which helps regulate appetite. The hypothalamus also regulates sleep cycles, thirst and other critical biological functions.
This research confirms suggestions that the nerve cells in the hypothalamus are not ‘fixed’ from birth, but can be generated later. Researchers identified a type of cell known as ‘Fgf10-expressing tanycytes’ that could add new nerve cells to the hypothalamus after birth.
This study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Neuroscience. It was carried out by researchers from the University of East Anglia, UK; the University of Helsinki, Finland; University Justus Liebig, Germany; and the University of Los Angeles, US. It was funded by the Wellcome Trust.
The story was covered by the BBC News, the Daily Express and the Mail Online. BBC News strikes an appropriate note of caution in its coverage and includes a quote from one of the researchers pointing out that this is just a single first step towards a possible, and by no means certain, treatment for obesity in humans. The coverage in the Mail Online and the Express is a bit more excitable; with claims in their headlines that an ‘obesity pill’ may be available ‘within years’.
Some areas of the brain can change and adapt over the course of a lifetime (this is known as neuro-plasticity) while others remain relatively unchanged.
Until recently it was thought that the majority of the nerve cells in hypothalamus were generated during the embryonic period. However, there is increasing evidence, that this study adds to, that new nerve cell formation occurs after birth and into adulthood.
The researchers wanted to see if Fgf10- expressing tanycytes could act in the same way as stem cells or progenitor cells in the production of new cells. They specifically wanted to see if they could stimulate formation of nerve cells (neurons) in the hypothalamus after birth.
The researchers found that Fgf10- expressing tanycytes continually add new neurons to the parts of the hypothalamus that regulate appetite and energy balance. Some of these cells expressed a signalling molecule involved in the regulation of appetite.
Some cells responded to fasting, as well as responding to signals from the hormone leptin, which inhibits appetite.
The researchers concluded that this study provides evidence that new neurons grow in the hypothalamus after birth, into adulthood. They also concluded that they identified Fgf10- expressing tanycyte cells as a source of these neurons, and that these cells have a possible role in appetite and energy balance.
Adding new cells could mean there may be ways to adapt appetite, energy balance and satiety, and if these processes could be modified, may lead to treatments for binge eating and obesity.
Most of our brain is neuroplastic, and every day new studies reveal more about that.
New neural networks can be formed, and others become obsolete. And that’ such a relief. It means that you can evolve your brain until your last living day.
I’ve been the worst food addict (mostly in secret) and I can tell you that my brain isn’t as excitable around food as it used to be. The same is true for 100% of my clients.
There are many ways in which you can retrain your 3 brains around food, and in the past couple of weeks we touched on some of them.
Now that you know a little bit more about the hypothalamus (located in the “emotional brain” that we talked about before), next week we will touch on it in more depth. And yes, there’ll be homework for you!
Have you noticed whether your appetite has fluctuated in the past couple of years? There are times when its signals are very weak, and times when it hits you just like a Tsunami.
What triggers do you believe cause you voracious appetite?
Write it down.
In my case, being Italian and a true “feeder,” if someone wouldn’t taste or eat what I prepare, I’d feel like a homeless child who hasn’t eaten for days. That’s a proper emotional trigger. But there are other triggers. It can be a place you often walk by, such as your favourite pastries shop. Or it can be an associative memory, like leaving work and knowing you can relax with food at home. Even hanging out with a specific person often triggers appetite!
Identity at least one trigger. Next week we’ll talk about a single trigger that most people ignore and have no idea it even exists! So stay tuned.