Appetite control: Find out how the brain tells your body when to eat

Eating the largest meal of the day during the evening hours, when people are winding down, contrasts with scientific findings indicating that consuming bigger meals while the sun is out and the body is active promotes better health [1].

Researchers from the University of Virginia have taken a step towards encouraging an earlier dinner time by identifying a cluster of neurons in our brains attuned to our natural rhythms, which trigger hunger.

The analysis, published in Science Advances, unfolded in the laboratory of Ali Deniz Güler, an associate professor of biology. Qijun Tang, a graduate student from Güler’s lab and a lead author of the study, provided insights into mind-gut research and its potential to reshape eating habits in favor of wellness.

The study aimed to uncover how human brains anticipate mealtime, mainly focusing on the behavior observed in people and animals that expect food consistently daily.

The research delved into the mystery surrounding this anticipation mechanism, which has intrigued scientists for over a century. Pets, for instance, often exhibit this behavior, moving expectantly around meal areas even if they’ve had a recent snack.

The timing of meals holds significance due to the human evolutionary development of a biological clock system designed to align behavioral and physiological responses with the natural rhythms of our surroundings.

This synchronization is essential for the survival of organisms but has been disrupted by modern lifestyles, leading to health issues like obesity and poor sleep quality [2]. Various studies highlight the connection between this disruption and serious diseases such as metabolic conditions, cancer, and Alzheimer’s [34].

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In response, scientific investigations advocate for adhering to internal clocks by consuming meals during the daytime, showcasing considerable health benefits across animal and human trials [5].

To gain insight into the mechanics of this uncertainty, the researchers employed advanced neurobiology tools to monitor and influence brain neurons in freely behaving mice.

Their approach provided an understanding of how specific brain neurons activate ahead of mealtime and how controlling their activity impairs the mice’s ability to anticipate meals.

The study’s revelation centered on a specific group of neurons in the dorsomedial hypothalamus, a brain region known for its role in metabolism regulation. These neurons can detect hormones like leptin, which are crucial for metabolism.

Consequently, they communicate this information to the body’s circadian clocks, helping align internal timekeeping with external cues.

Future research aims to delve deeper into the identified neurons in the dorsomedial hypothalamus. By focusing on these neurons, researchers intend to formulate more effective strategies to counter circadian misalignments, which have been linked to severe diseases.

The ultimate goal is to decode the intricate interplay between biological clocks, eating behaviors and overall health, providing the way for innovative interventions to promote healthier living.

Although biological clocks keep track of time naturally, routines must be aligned with them. It’s easy to promote healthy circadian rhythms by maintaining a steady sleep-wake cycle and eating simultaneously every day.

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