We’ve all been there. After a night out, you’ve had a little too much to drink, and all you want is a slice of pizza or a kebab before you go back home to pass out.
This effect has been something of a mystery to scientists though, as alcohol contains a lot of calories. When you consume more calories, your body releases chemicals that suppress your appetite, so it seems counter-intuitive that we get the “drunchies” after a heavy drinking session.
New research — albeit in mice, not people — suggests that the brain cells that stimulate the urge to eat may actually be activated by alcohol as well as hunger. This could help explain why, in people, binge drinking often leads to binge eating.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, showed mice enjoying a three-day “alcoholic weekend.” The team found that the drunk mice ate significantly more food than mice that stayed sober.
Previous research has shown that people like to stuff their faces after drinking alcohol, which has been named “the apéritif effect,” but so far it has been a bit of a mystery what the biological reasons behind this are.
Thanks to this new study, the researchers say it may be because major components of the brain’s feeding circuits are activated by alcohol — specific hunger-promoting brain cells known as Agrp neurons.
“Our data suggest that alcohol sustains fundamental appetite signals, (and does) not just disinhibit their behavioral manifestation,” wrote Dr Denis Burdakov, a pharmacology professor at the Francis Crick Institute in London, and lead author of the study.
To test their findings, the team blocked these neurons in some mice, which stopped the drunken mice over-eating.
Still, as it was in mice, the findings may not be directly applicable to humans. We need more studies in humans to make that leap. For example, the mice were injected with alcohol rather than fed it, which people don’t tend to do. This stress in itself can have an impact on the brain and may have affected the results.
Either way, this is research many of us can relate to. It would be especially nice not to wake up feeling guilty about all the awful food we consumed when under the influence.