The gut may have the answer to addiction

Hormones produced naturally in our stomach and intestines could become the answer to people’s fight against addictions, including smoking, drinking and overeating.

Two gut hormones that alter our appetites – glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) and ghrelin – also target the areas of the brain that impact on cravings and stress.

A new study by the Imperial College London is investigating whether hormones that give us a sense of fullness after a meal are also capable of shutting down cravings.

The Gut Hormone in Addiction Study is following up on previous research that found the cravings experienced by people who overeat are similar to cravings of people with addictions to cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs.

Lead researcher Dr Tony Goldstone from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London is hopeful that this discovery will lead to new drug treatments for obesity, smoking and alcohol dependence – treatments he says we desperately need.

The study will test volunteers’ levels of craving while seeing images of different foods, cigarettes and alcohol. Some volunteers will take compounds that copy GLP-1 and ghrelin, while other volunteers will take placebos.

The volunteers’ reactions to images of junk food, cigarettes and alcohol will then be analysed along with reactions to images of stress, another aspect of the study.

“In obesity, non-surgical interventions, such as diet and exercise programmes, have been disappointing in achieving long-term weight loss. Similarly with alcohol and smoking dependence, relapse is common when people are trying to quit," Dr Goldstone says.

"Such a new hormonal approach may also have the added benefit of helping to prevent weight gain after people quit smoking. This is a common reason why people either do not want to stop smoking in the first place or start smoking once again after they have given up.” 

Learn more

Weight loss, quitting smoking and giving up alcohol may be aided by gut hormones Imperial College London, UK  
Gut Hormones in Addiction (GHADD) Study Hammersmith Hospital, London, UK