Could Ghrelin be my Hunger Gremlin?

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.

Are Processed Foods Okay as long as They’re Gluten-Free?

A study is about to be released that will directly track back the cause of metabolic syndrome to the sugar we consume. Metabolic Syndrome is a combination of medical disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease.*

You may respond to this news with a shrug thinking you’re immune to the problem because you limit desserts, don’t spoon sugar into your coffee, avoid soft drinks, and never touch a doughnut. Before you get too comfortable, take a moment to read the labels on the packaged gluten-free pizza, bread, rolls, muffins, scones, cornbread, bagels, tamales, chicken broth, deli meats, crackers, pretzels, seasoning packets, jams, jellies, and cereal that you eat along with the labels on your juice drinks and sodas. If you see the words glucose, dextrose, fructose, galactose, high fructose corn syrup, cane syrup, sucrose, maltose, or lactose then the food contains sugar.

If a label contains words like sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, lactitol, erythritol, isomalt or hydrogenated starch hydrolysates then the food contains sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are often found in foods labeled sugar-free. Even though they are not sugars, these items are carbohydrates and may trigger the same deleterious effects as sugar such as raising your blood sugar level.

If you employ a gluten-free lifestyle, none of these items will trigger the autoimmune response your body has to gluten. That makes them healthier for you than a gluten containing equivalent. It does not make them healthy.

According to the American Heart Association, the current recommended daily allowance of sugar in a healthy diet is no more than 6 tsp for women and 9 tsp for men.** That might seem like a lot of sugar if you’re eating it straight out of a spoon, but not like much at all when you drink a 12 oz soda even though the soda contains 8 tsp of sugar.

If you want to be as healthy as possible, you can carefully read labels making sure to add up all the sugars listed so that you don’t exceed the recommended number of teaspoons per day. Because most labels list sugars in grams, this can become a confusing and time consuming task. The easier thing to do is to phase processed foods out of your eating plan.

I’m not suggesting that you should never, ever eat a bowl of cereal, packaged pasta, or crackers, but if you make these rare treats rather than everyday staples, it will be much easier to keep your sugar consumption at a minimum. It will also facilitate lowering your sodium intake, and it won’t hurt your pocket book either since gluten-free convenience foods are often priced significantly higher than their gluten-containing counterparts.

lamb chops
Lamb Chops are Gluten-Free

Don’t worry about not having enough gluten-free choices when you phase out processed food. Fresh beef, pork, fish, seafood, poultry, dairy, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit, herbs, and spices have never contained gluten. By combining these ingredients you can make a seemingly unlimited number of delicious and healthy combinations.

More fresh food means less risk for Metabolic Syndrome. Let’s phase out that processed food, get out those aprons, and start cooking to thrive!
*For more information, see these resources:

Lustig, Robert. Fat Chance.; Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease. New York: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated, 2013. Print.


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