Liver Hormone May Influence How Many Sweets You Eat and Alcohol You Drink

First Posted: Dec 28, 2015 08:57 AM EST

Your liver may actually sway how many sweets you eat and how much alcohol you drink. Scientists have found the first evidence of a liver-derived hormone that regulates intake of sugars and alcohol in mice.

"A lot of work has examined the central mechanisms regulating sugar-seeking behavior, but the post-ingestive mechanisms regulating sugar appetite are poorly understood," said Matthew Potthoff, one of the researchers, in a news release.

In this latest study, the researchers looked at the hormone, called FGF21, in both mice and monkeys. While many signaling pathways in the central nervous systems are known to influence sweet and alcohol preference, this is the first liver-derived hormone found to have these effects.

In this case, the researchers have linked FGF21 to nutrient preference. It can exert powerful effects on behavior by acting on the central nervous system, including in humans.

In fact, the researchers found that this liver-derived hormone could suppress appetite; as a single dose, it could cause a monkey to almost immediately lose interest in sweet water.

"In addition to identifying these neural pathways, we would like to see if additional hormones exist to regulate appetite for specific macronutrients like fat and protein, comparable to the effects of FGF21 on carbohydrate intake," said Potthoff. "If so, how do those signal intertwine to regulate the neural sensing of different macronutrients?"

The findings raise other questions about FGF21; does it improve diet quality, or does it help the liver protect itself from excess alcohol? Whatever its origin, its ability to prevent the overconsumption of sugar could be harnessed therapeutically in the future.

The findings are published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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