Could ghrelin be my hunger gremlin? For years I’ve been wondering whether my hunger sensor is broken. I can end up with all the symptoms of low blood sugar before I ever feel hungry. On the flip side, I can eat and eat and never feel full. Most likely, there’s a communication problem between my celiac damaged gut and my brain. The question is, what’s the problem and can it be fixed?
Asking this question led me to some reading on the hormone ghrelin. I’ll keep the information here simple, but have placed some links below if you’d like to read about the function of this multifaceted hormone in greater detail.
Initially, I ran across information that indicated ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone. It activates its receptor, growth hormone secretagogue receptor (GHS-R), to regulate nutrient sensing, meal initiation, appetite, fat deposition, and growth hormone release. This sounds related to my hunger sensor concern. Perhaps ghrelin is my hunger gremlin. In order to find out, I had to keep reading.
Scientific literature now suggests its functions go well beyond those related to simple appetite stimulation. Ghrelin has been increasingly recognized as having a role in regulating many organs and systems such the process of creating glucose from non-carbohydrate sources (gluconeogenesis) by inhibiting insulin secretion. It can also regulate energy expenditure by signaling a decrease in heat in the body.
This hormone provides a measure of cardioprotection by reducing sympathetic nerve activity which increases the survival prognosis after a heart attack. That doesn’t sound like gremlin activity. That sounds helpful. It prevents muscle atrophy — also helpful. In spite of all these helpful functions, Ghrelin has a gremliny side. It may promote cancer development and metastasis.
And it seems that ghrelin prevents excessive anxiety under conditions of chronic stress. Now we could be getting somewhere. My early years were filled with enough chronic stress to wear out whatever mechanisms were regulating my stress levels. Still, I don’t have enough information to quite put the pieces together to figure out why my hunger sensor is off.
It’s possible that in the future, ghrelin-related drugs will be produced to help with my problem and many others. The wide-ranging roles of ghrelin and GHS-R make them likely targets for drug development.
A paper has already been published showing that in rats ghrelin can alleviate disturbance of glucose and lipids caused by consumption of the party drug ecstasy (MDMA). Sounds like this could lead to a drug to fight the detrimental effects of a drug. That can either be good or bad, depends on how you look at it.
With all my reading I learned a lot, but I did not find a definitive answer. I don’t know if the problem with my hunger signals is primarily in my brain, my gut, my adrenal glands or somewhere else. I still don’t know whether ghrelin is my hunger gremlin.