The growling of your tummy isn’t just in your head (or belly) after you’ve had an adult beverage or two. Drinking alcohol really does make you hungrier, according to a new study conducted by the Francis Crick Institute in the U.K., which is why that glass of red wine or vodka soda often causes you to crave munchies.
The two-year investigation, published in Nature Communications, looked at how ethanol alcohol affects the body, brain, and actions of mice. The mice were given around a-bottle-and-a half to two bottles of wine over a three-day period. The alcohol fired up certain neurons, called AgRP, located in the hypothalamus, which not only increased appetite, but also decreased metabolism and energy levels. They believe a similar reaction happens in humans.
“Our study clearly shows that the main area of the brain responsible for eating (the hypothalamus and its AgRP neurons) is directly affected and excited by ethanol, and that mice respond very strongly to its exposure by overeating for several hours afterward,” say study co-authors Sarah Cains, MD, and Craig Blomeley, MD. The researchers repeated the experiment again, but this time blocking the AgRP neuron signals, and found that the mice ate less, which shows that the AgRP neurons may directly influence binge eating when binge drinking. While not yet studied, the researchers also believe that dopamine might also be affected in a similar way, contributing to overeating when drinking alcohol.
So what could this mean for you? The more you drink, the hungrier you will be, and the more you will want to eat. So to avoid binge eating, don’t drink in excess. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, binge drinking is defined as having a blood alcohol concentration above a .08, which is about four drinks for women and five for men in a two-hour period.
“Avoid binge drinking if you want to avoid binge eating,” say the study authors, who also believe that there may be a link between binge drinking and obesity. “Binge drinking and obesity are typically thought of as two separate societal problems, but why does this happen all over the world and what is making us do this?” they ask. “It is too easy to believe that one cannot lead to the other, and that this correlation does not involve the brain somehow.”