Hormone May Program Obesity During Infancy

  • If you find yourself often going back for seconds at the dinner table, it might just not be because the food is good. A new study suggests that a hormone that regulates our hunger may be a trigger for obesity, based on its production during infancy.


    Ghrelin is produced in our gut, and like other hormones, communicates with our brain to signal a reaction within our body. By interacting with cells in the hypothalamus, ghrelin promotes appetite and regulates your metabolism.


    But it’s the influence of ghrelin on long-term appetite habits that piqued the interest of a team from the Saban Research Institute at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. They discovered that not only is the body sensitive to the way this hormone signals the brain during infant years, but disruptions to this sensitive programming can contribute to metabolic diseases, such as obesity, later on.

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    To study the hormone’s effects, researchers used mice for two different experiments. They first blocked ghrelin in infant mice, and this caused excessive hunger, leading to metabolic conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, later in life. In the second experiment, researchers instead increased ghrelin during the same period of infancy. They were surprised to find that this yielded the same results as the first experiment. This suggests that infancy is a sensitive period of life, and a slight disruption to the chemical balance during this time could be a precursor for later metabolic diseases.


    Researchers say that this study also indicates that hormones play specific roles during different stages of life and should be studied separately. The medical conclusions made for adults can’t be the same for children, since chemicals and hormones are working in the body in different ways.


    Increased ghrelin levels have been shown to be one of the major factors in Prader-Willi Syndrome. This is a genetic disease that causes an increase in appetite and severe obesity. Researchers suspect this same mechanism may play a role in what leads to obesity or becoming overweight in children.


    Following the release of the results in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the researchers still don’t fully understand this delicate balance of hormones, or how to repair the miscommunication to the brain during infancy that may cause obesity. However, the study clearly suggests that the best way to offset the possible development of metabolic disease is proper nutrition efforts during early childhood.





Published On: January 26, 2015