Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


What Is Ghrelin?

Know Thine Enemy

Ghrelin is a hormone you may not have heard of, but you really should get to know. And take charge of the little bugger. That’s because ghrelin is your hunger hormone.

Ghrelin was discovered by researchers in Japan about 10 years ago—it was originally identified as a growth hormone. Only later did its role in stimulating appetite become understood.

RELATED: How To Eat According To Your True Hunger Cues

It's a hormone secreted by the lining of your stomach. It goes up when your tummy is empty, essentially sending a FEED ME signal to your brain. Ghrelin levels then decrease for about three hours after a meal, give or take. At which point it starts to spike again, prompting hunter-gatherer type behaviour. Like rooting through the back of your cupboard for a box of Oreos.

But ghrelin is nasty in another way, too. Not only does it make you eat more, it also stimulates the accumulation of fat in your visceral organs, in the abdominal zone. In other words: it promotes belly fat. See what I mean? Nasty.

So the question is: how can you control your hunger hormone?

  • Get more sleep. A recent study showed that sleep deprivation is associated with an increase in ghrelin levels and hunger, compared to people who had a good night’s sleep.
  • Avoid meals high in saturated fat. When you eat a lot of saturated fat it doesn’t seem to decrease your ghrelin count quite so much as a meal rich in protein, or “good” carbs (ie. low GI carbs--whole grains and the like).
  • Hit the pavement. A vigorous cardio workout like running on a treadmill appears to suppress ghrelin production and, in turn, appetite. And that’s what I call win-win.