Cut Triglycerides to Curb Your Appetite

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You want to lose weight, but you’re always hungry, always looking for something to eat. Don’t assume a simple lack of willpower is to blame. Recent research points to a possible new culprit: high triglycerides.

Minding Your Appetite

You might not think of your brain as a digestive organ. But that’s where the story of triglycerides and your appetite starts.

Your body produces various hormones based on its need for food. These hormones then travel through the bloodstream to the brain. Once inside the brain, the hormones pass on chemical messages that help determine whether you feel starved or stuffed.

Before this can happen, however, the hormones must enter your brain from the bloodstream through a gateway called the blood-brain barrier. That’s where high triglycerides may come into play, by affecting how much hormone gets inside the brain.

The Leptin Connection

One key hormone for controlling appetite is leptin, produced by fat cells throughout the body. High levels of leptin in the brain create a sense of fullness and curb appetite. Low levels have the opposite effect, causing hunger.

A few years ago, researchers at St. Louis University studied leptin and triglyceride levels in mice. They found that high triglycerides in the mice interfered with leptin’s ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier. When triglyceride levels were lowered with medication, leptin was able to get into the brain normally once again.

Although this study was done in mice, something similar may happen in people. High triglycerides may block leptin, leading to an over-amped appetite and overeating. Lowering the triglycerides may help get a raging appetite back under control.

The Effect on Ghrelin

More recently, a 2008 study by the same research team looked at a second hormone called ghrelin. This hormone, produced mainly by the stomach, revs up appetite. Normally, when the stomach is empty, ghrelin levels rise rapidly and let the brain know it’s time to eat. As soon as the stomach is full, ghrelin levels fall and hunger subsides.

This study, also done in mice, found that triglycerides helped ghrelin pass through the blood-brain barrier faster. So triglycerides not only block leptin, a hormone that suppresses appetite, but also boost ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates eating.

The upshot: High triglycerides make mice want to eat more. And researchers are curious about whether they may have the same effect in people.

Lower Your Triglycerides

If you’ve been struggling to lose weight, you're not alone. Hormonal factors may play a role in how tough it is to shed extra pounds. If research in mice is confirmed in people, lowering your triglycerides could help improve these hormonal factors.

Fortunately, some of the same lifestyle choices that help lower triglycerides also help you lose weight. These include getting regular exercise and cutting back on added sugars, refined grains, and excess alcohol. As the pounds drop off, your triglyceride levels may fall even more, because weight loss itself also helps reduce triglycerides. It’s the kind of positive cycle that can lead to better health all around.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 17
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