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04 September 2017

Here’s why eating makes you feel good

Naturally occurring opioids which produce a sense of pleasure make us want to eat.

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If eating and drinking weren't such pleasurable activities, the human race might have died out a long time ago. Fortunately, eating prompts the brain to release "feel good" hormones, known as endorphins, that give us a good reason to feed our faces on a regular basis.

Researchers found the regulation of these hormones may help the body know when it's satisfied, which could help to avoid overeating and subsequent obesity, the researchers noted.

Receptors in brain

According to a Health24 article, the amino acid tryptophan is our source of a natural high, and studies show that dietary additions of tryptophan-rich foods improve mood. Good sources of tryptophan are meat, dairy, soy, eggs, peanut butter, pumpkin seeds, avocado and banana.

For the study, Finnish researchers, led by Lauri Nummenmaa from Turku PET Center, scanned the brains of 10 male volunteers using positron emission tomography (PET). The participants were instructed to fast overnight and were injected with a radioactive compound, which binds to opioid receptors in the brain.

The study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

Using the PET scans, the scientists measured the radioactivity in the men's brains after they broke their fast and ate a pizza. The scans were repeated after the volunteers consumed a less mouth-watering liquid meal that contained the same amount of calories as the pizza.

New treatments for obesity

The investigators found that both meals triggered a significant release of endogenous opioids in the brain. However, only the pizza led to a notable increase in pleasant feelings, the researchers said.

The nutritional drink prompted the brain to release more endorphins. But this meal didn't produce feelings of enjoyment. This suggests opioid release in the brain associated with eating is independent of the pleasure associated with eating.

The study authors said their findings could help scientists gain a better understanding of the predictors of addiction and eating disorders, and eventually lead to new treatments for obesity.

Image credit: iStock

 
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