‘Hedonic Hunger’ Triggers Overeating, Weight Gain

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CHEVY CHASE, Md.—New research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism has found “hedonic hunger" or the desire to eat for taste and pleasure, triggers endogenous reward signals in the brain that can prompt a person to eat more of the pleasurable food—a phenomenon ultimately affects body mass and may be a factor in the continuing rise of obesity.

Researchers at the University of Naples suggest endogenous substances regulating reward mechanisms like the hormone ghrelin and chemical compounds, such as 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), are involved.

For the study, the researchers assessed eight satiated healthy adults, aged 21 to 33 years, feeding them each their personal favorite food and, later, a less-palatable food of equal caloric and nutrient value. Participants’ 2-AG and ghrelin levels were measured periodically. Plasma levels of ghrelin and 2-AG increased during hedonic eating, with the favorite foods, but not with non-hedonic eating. This increase suggests an activation of the chemical reward system, which overrides the body’s signal that enough has been eaten to restore energy.

“Hedonic hunger may powerfully stimulate overeating in an environment where highly palatable foods are omnipresent, and contribute to the surge in obesity," they said. “Understanding the physiological mechanisms underlying this eating behavior may shed some light on the obesity epidemic. Further research should confirm and extend our results to patients with obesity or with other eating disorders in order to better understand the phenomenon of hedonic eating."

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