Alcohol Sensitizes Brain’s Response To Food Aromas, Say Scientists – Is Liquor Responsible For Rising Obesity?

Alcohol may be responsible for boosting our ability to enjoy food. A study suggests liquor makes food not only smell better, but helps us appreciate it more.

It has long been the assumption that a few drinks caused social drinkers to experience a surge in their appetite and desire for food. It was believed that alcohol was responsible for causing the uptick in the sensation, despite the opposition saying liquor dulled the senses. It seems the proponents of alcohol consumption before a meal were right all along.

A research conducted by Indiana University indicated that exposure to alcohol enhanced the brain’s sensitivity and heightened its response to food aromas. In simpler words, food seemed much more appealing and appetizing, which, of course, led to extra consumption. Connecting the dots, one could also summarize that alcohol consumption was responsible for increased intake of food and hence a hidden cause of obesity.

The research, published in the journal Obesity on the Wiley Online Library, explains it happens because of “The Aperitif Effect,” the phenomenon that alcohol encourages people to eat more.

While there have been a few attempts to explain exactly why alcohol makes us appreciate food more, this is the first study that looks specifically at the role the brain plays in influencing caloric intake, and it seems after a number of drinks, the brain switches from “mediating” to simply “enabling” our food intake.

To test the hypothesis, scientists hooked 35 female volunteers up to an IV that sent alcohol into their bloodstreams at one time and a harmless saline solution at another. Apart from monitoring their eating habits or the changes therein, their brains were hooked to magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines to check responses to food and non-food aromas.

As expected, alcohol significantly influenced food intake as compared to the placebo drip. However, what’s interesting is that the hypothalamus — the part of the brain that regulates various metabolic processes — responded enthusiastically to food aromas after the body had been exposed to alcohol. This poses a major risk to those trying to keep their weight down, shared William Eiler, the lead author of the study.

“Our study found that alcohol exposure can both increase the brain’s sensitivity to external food cues, like aromas, and result in greater food consumption. Many alcoholic beverages already include empty calories, and when you combine those calories with the aperitif effect, it can lead to energy imbalance and possibly weight gain.”

With America weighing down under an obesity epidemic and two out of every three American adults consuming alcohol, there is an immediate need to find more connecting factors between the brain, food, and alcohol, advise the scientists.

[Image Credit | Vulcain David Vincent / Getty Images]

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