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What Is the Role of Ghrelin?

Ghrelin is a hormone generated in the stomach.
Ghrelin triggers the feeling of hunger.
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  • Written By: Sandra Koehler
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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Hormones are chemicals produced by certain cells. These chemicals are secreted to different areas of the body, making them a main component of the body’s communication system. Ghrelin is a hormone generated in the stomach which is responsible for regulating appetite. It also plays a key role in the development of fatty tissue, especially in the abdominal area.

The level of ghrelin increases prior to eating, triggering the sensation of hunger. Once the body has acquired an adequate amount of sustenance or food, ghrelin levels drop off. This signals the body to stop eating. If the chemical production or signaling is disrupted, the body can be tricked into thinking it is hungry even after food has been consumed.

Ghrelin works alongside another hormone called leptin. Leptin is created and secreted from adipose, or fat, tissue. This hormone controls the intake and outflow of energy, which includes adjusting and regulating appetite and metabolism, the process by which food is transformed or converted into energy. In other words, ghrelin tells the body it is hungry and leptin sends a signal to the brain to convey when the body is full.

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Changes in the levels of these hormones can be influenced by sleep patterns. When the body does not acquire enough rest, leptin levels may decrease. Ghrelin levels, on the other hand, may increase from lack of sleep. These changes trick the body into thinking it is hungry even when it is not. This combination can increase the desire to continue eating and may be a key contributor to overeating which in turn can lead to weight gain or obesity.

The weight gain caused by alterations in the levels of these hormones typically causes an increase in the buildup of fat in the stomach or abdominal region of the body. An increase in fat in this area is considered most dangerous, as it raises the load on the heart. This usually comes in the form of increasing blood pressure or improving the odds of developing type 2 diabetes, or high levels of insulin. Another side effect of changes in ghrelin or leptin may result in an increase in developing a resistance to insulin. This collection of symptoms can result in a condition called metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that improve the chance of coronary artery disease or stroke.

Ghrelin level alterations are also thought to be key players in the development of stress-induced depression. It is also a major component in a process called neurotrophy, the process of the development and function of neurons in the body. This relates to the body’s ability to adapt to changes in environment and the capability of learning.

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