The human body is composed of various systems which work together to promote normal and healthy function. We tend to talk about these systems as independent, but in reality, they are intricately interconnected. A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California shows how the digestive system interacts with cognitive function in the specific area of memory.
What Is Ghrelin and What Does It Do?
Ghrelin is an essential digestive hormone associated with hunger. The stomach primarily produces ghrelin as a means to trigger the sensation of hunger. The hormone also modulates metabolism. In addition to inducing hunger, Ghrelin also slows down the metabolism to protect energy reserves and maintain body fat. Research is ongoing to discover the various ways that Ghrelin impacts human physiology.
Scientists at USC recently published a scientific investigation regarding how Ghrelin affects memory function in rats. They discovered that Ghrelin negatively influences memory and contributes to increased eating frequency. The lead author was Scott Kanoski, a professor that specializes in biological sciences.
Ghrelin and the Vagus Nerve
To learn more about the link between the gut and the brain, USC scientists worked with international researchers to see what would happen if the stomach and mind's neurological connections were disrupted. The Vagus Nerve is responsible for linking the digestive system to the brain and also helps the heart and lungs interact. In this study, researchers prevented Ghrelin from acting on the Vagus nerve in rats and recorded the results.
After Ghrelin signaling was blocked, the scientists looked for changes in the rats' behavior. There were no signs of anxiety among the rats, but they did start eating more often. The inhibited influence of Ghrelin also led to weight gain and issues with blood sugar regulation.
Blocking Ghrelin Makes Rats Eat More, but Not More Often
Interestingly enough, these changes were not the result of increased calories. Even though rats were eating more often, they ate smaller meals, spreading out the calories. Researchers hypothesized that these changes in eating habits were associated with impaired memory in the rats. Their inability to clearly remember their last meal led them to eat more often.
The rats could remember how to get to their food, but not the last time they ate. Specifically, the rats appeared to have issues with episodic memory. This type of memory helps you remember specific scenes from your life, such as what you had for dinner or what you wore to work yesterday.
By studying the effects of Ghrelin on memory and vagus nerve activity, scientists hope to develop new techniques and strategies to help patients struggling with various conditions—and not only health issues associated with diet.
By studying the interplay between the gut and the brain via Ghrelin, researchers will likely discover new knowledge to help patients with Alzheimer's, epilepsy, diabetes, obesity, and more! We may even be able to manipulate how Ghrelin acts on the Vagus Nerve as an effective medical treatment.
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