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Health Fusion: How the brain helps you feel full may lead to new eating disorder treatments

When you've had enough to eat, your brain sends signals to make you feel full. But where and how does that happen? New research may help scientists develop therapies for eating disorders and obesity. Viv Williams has details in this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion."

Veggie Pizza with
Your brain signals when your tummy is full of food
Viv Williams

ROCHESTER — Do you ever go to an all-you-can eat place when you're super hungry? Maybe you pile food on your plate and shovel it in, but then can't finish because you get stuffed. Or sometimes the opposite might happen. You really get your money's worth because you never seem to feel full and keep going back for seconds, thirds or more.

Research has shown that your brain sends signals to let you know you're full and should put that fork down. But where in the brain that happens has been a bit of a mystery. Until now.

A study led by researchers at the University of Arizona reveals information that builds onto what's already known. Previous research shows the amygdala — the part of the brain that controls fear, pain and other strong emotions — is also involved in signaling when you're full.

But scientists didn't know where the signal went next. This new research shows that after the amygdala, the signal goes to a region of the brain called the parasubthalamic nucleus, or PSTh, which is responsible for the feeling of fullness, or satiation.

This is important, because how much you eat is not just related to feeling full. It's also tangled up with our emotions. The researchers are looking into the connections between how the brain signals fullness and our emotions.


"We know that eating and emotions are different behaviors, but they interact closely with each other," says Dr. Haijiang Cai, an associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience. "Some people eat when stressed, while others eat less. Some people with an eating disorder or obesity have abnormal eating behavior, but they also have emotional problems. So, we hope to identify the neural mechanisms that control eating and control emotion and how they interact with each other. This knowledge can help us develop a more specific treatments."

The research is published in the Journal Molecular Metabolism.


Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com . Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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