By Kennedy Shelley
Every year we vow to lose 20 pounds, but before we leave the New Year’s Party, we grab a piece of cake.
What makes it so darn hard to say no?
Scientists are now experimenting with hormone therapies to reduce impulsive actions which show great promise to stop the grazing of sweet treats, as well as compulsive gambling and shopping.
In the journal Communications Nature scientists released the results of rat testing where significant control of impulsive behavior was increased when the rats were given Melanin-Concentrating Hormone (MCH).
Scientists set up a situation where the rats got a special sweet treat if they pushed a lever. But they had to wait 20 seconds before they could push it again. If they pushed too quickly, the rats got an additional 20 second penalty.
The rats started to figure out the game, they had to wait between pushes if they wanted the treats.
But like small children waiting for Christmas, or a compulsive gambler at a slot machine, they had a tough time controlling their impulse for immediate reward.
Until the scientists started injecting the rats with MCH.
It has long been suspected that the problem with impulse control is the short circuit between the neural pathway between hypothalamus and hippocampus.
How many times have you said to yourself “when will I ever learn not to do that?” Well that is the link. These two parts of the brain control your learning.
One of the study authors Emily Noble, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Georgia, in Athens said:
“There’s underlying physiology in your brain that is regulating your capacity to say no to impulsive eating. In experimental models, you can activate that circuitry and get a specific behavioral response.”
In short, MCH helps strengthen resolve by improving the pathway to impulse and learning, the link between the hypothalamus and hippocampus.
At least at this point, with rats. We are still waiting to see if this will work in the much more complex human brain.
But the research does show that there is a promising link that will help us learn and develop more self-control by better hormonal regulation.
Before you blow this off as a lack of willpower, remember that hormones are the powerful signaling mechanisms that the body uses in a host of systems and we use hormone supplementation to help in a number of conditions.
Type 1 diabetics do not produce insulin, so they don’t create or store fat. So, they are given insulin to help regulate this system.
People on a ketogenic diet mimic the low insulin levels by reducing carbohydrates to lower insulin to help them lose weight.
Women take estrogen to help with menopausal symptoms including hot flashes.
Men use testosterone replacement therapy to overcome depression which is sometimes triggered by extremely low testosterone levels.
So, it makes sense that hormone replacement might help us get better control of our damaging or self-defeating impulsive behaviors.
This research shows great promise for many people who just can’t seem to say no to that last bite of cake for the new year.