The perceived ability to moderate sweets and alcohol intake may not be mind over matter, as it is hormones over hunger. New research suggests that a liver hormone could keep cravings for alcohol and sweets in check, according to University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
It was the first time a liver hormone was observed impacting alcohol and sugar preference in mammals, said Steven Kliewer, professor of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology at UT Southwestern and one of the study's senior authors.
The findings were published in the journal Cell Metabolism on Dec. 24, 2015.
The researchers determined that FGF21 (Fibroblast Growth Factor 21) plays a role in calming sugars and alcohol cravings in mammals. The hormone is produced when mammals consume carbohydrates. It has also been linked to environmental stress, such as extreme cold temperature exposure or dramatic dietary changes.
"The finding that FGF21 acts via the brain was completely unexpected when we started down this path of investigation a dozen years ago," said Kliewer. "These findings suggest that additional studies are warranted to assess the effects of FGF21 on sweet and alcohol preference and other reward behavior in humans."
In their look at FGF21, researchers tempted mice with water that was laced with sugars and alcohol. Those with higher levels of FGF21 had lower preferences for the spiked drinks. Their dopamine levels were also lower, giving their brains less reward for indulging in the temptations.
Researchers are already looking at how forms of FGF21 can be used as drugs to treat type 2 diabetes, obesity, and alcoholism.
"Our findings raise the possibility that FGF21 administration could affect nutrient preference and other reward behaviors in humans, and that the hormone could potentially be used to treat alcoholism," Kliewer said.
The study on FGF21's ability to reduce cravings for alcohol and sweets is the latest in the university's look at the hormone's effects on mammals. Previous research has indicated that the hormone also plays a role in female reproduction, metabolism regulation, and the circadian rhythms of the body's clock.