Have you ever found yourself informing anyone who would listen after a long night out at the bar, “I could totally take down an entire pizza right now,” and meaning it with your entire heart? You aren’t alone: science says even mice get the munchies when they’re drunk.
In a study published in Nature Communications, researchers from The Francis Crick Institute Mill Hill Laboratory in London found that alcohol activates brain cells that control hunger, prompting drunk mice to gorge on food even if they weren’t actually hungry, Scientific American reports.
Researchers basically mimicked what they called an “alcohol weekend” by injecting some mice of both sexes with alcohol once a day for three days, while others were kept sober. Each injection was the mouse-equivalent of about two bottles of wine or six to eight British pints — “a proper binge session,” as one of the researchers put it.
During their weekend of boozing it up, intoxicated mice of both sexes ate significantly more than sober mice, researchers found, with mice going especial bonkers for food on day two of the binge.
Scientists then set out to see if the impulse to go nuts on a bag of chips when you’re drunk is an impulse that comes from our brains, by slicing open the mice’s brains to see if alcohol was affecting brain cells called agouti-related protein (AgRP), which are neurons related to controlling hunger. When AgRP neurons are firing away, your brain says, “it’s time to eat.”
They found that exposure to alcohol caused the AgRP neurons to fire more often and easily. But activity returned to normal after alcohol was flushed out, which means cells were permanently altered.
What does this mean for humans and our own drunken eating habits? Researchers note that we can’t say for sure whether this neural mechanism works the same way in humans, but it’s likely similar.
“I don’t doubt that AgRP neurons are activated in humans, and that’s why you see this effect, co-lead author Sarah Cains tells SciAm. She points out hat understanding the relationship between alcohol consumption and overeating is especially important when considering obesity. Despite the fact that increased alcohol intake and obesity are both on the rise in many countries, the two areas are often studied as separate issues.
“This study ties them together,” she says. The work “shows that if you have an increased alcohol intake, then you’re going to, as a result of that through the effect of alcohol on your brain, have an elevated level of food intake.”