A Hormone May Help Us Lay Off the Sauce...and the Sweets
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A Hormone May Help Us Lay Off the Sauce…and the Sweets



This post was originally published on January 28, 2016.

I don’t know about you, but my deep chemical need to eat sugar—and my ability to consume astonishing amounts without passing out—has followed me into sobriety. Most of us have heard of the connection between having a perpetual sweet tooth and being an alcoholic. Like most of you reading this, when alcohol hit my system I needed to have more and more and more. Today, I feel the need to eat four or five doughnuts when I take a bite of one tiny doughnut hole.

But good news is on the horizon! A study that’s hot on off the press in Cell Metabolism says a hormone in the liver can actually help curb both alcohol and sugar cravings.

Hormone Replacement Therapy for Drunks

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have pinpointed a hormone called fibroblast growth factor 21 or FGF21 (yes, that sounds more like a suspense movie or fighter jet than a hormone). They have determined that it changes the reward pathways in the brain so you no longer want that doughnut or that vodka.

“This is the first time a hormone made in the liver has been shown to affect sugar and alcohol preference in mammals,” said one of the study’s lead authors, Dr. Steven Kliewer, in a recent press release.

It’s a hormone we already have in our livers that’s triggered by drastic changes in diet, cold weather and carb-overloading. Now, scientists have begun administering FGF21 to mice, and, upon examination, they’ve noticed that the mice are far less prone to drinking water that’s laced with either sugar or alcohol once they’ve got the hormone in their system.

“We found that FGF21 administration markedly reduces sweet and alcohol preference in mice, and sweet preference in larger animal models,” said Dr. David Mangelsdorf, another lead author of the study.

Not only is it a hormone that can curb cravings and binge drinking, it can also help with type 2 diabetes by reducing sugar intake.

The study states “Since analogs of FGF21 are currently undergoing clinical evaluation for the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes, our findings raise the possibility that FGF21 administration could affect nutrient preference and other reward behaviors in humans.”

How Do I Get My Hands on This Stuff?

Clinical trials on humans have yet to take place, so who knows how long it’ll be before alkies and sugar fiends can get their hands on some FGF21. But what’s heartening is that, unlike many drugs in development that intend to curb alcohol cravings, FGF21 is a mere hormone. Hormones are powerful, it’s true, and anyone who’s taken them knows they sometimes bring side effects. Still, I’d rather take a hormone that I’ve already got swimming in my system than a drug.

Whether or not alcoholics and sugar addicts naturally have lower levels of FGF21 to begin with is a question that hasn’t been answered, but it’s certainly worth exploring. Any definitive explanation for my need to binge drink and gorge on cakes and cookies would certainly help. I need to remember that addiction is not a lack of willpower, that, as the AA Big Book states, we have a physiological reaction to alcohol that so-called normies don’t have.

Maybe I’ll petition these researchers to do that study, so we all feel a little less guilty about the times we pounded too many craft beers or Krispy Kremes.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.