We all felt it.
That undeniable urge to eat more when the temperature drops. Why do we often long for more feel-good food in winter?
The answer lies deep in our brain.
A group of researchers from Scripps Research have delved deep into this mystery and have uncovered some intriguing findings.
The body’s natural response to cold
When it’s cold outside, our bodies work overtime to keep us warm. Think of it like a car engine running in the cold – it needs more fuel to keep going.
Likewise, our body “burns” more energy to maintain its heat. When our body works harder it sends signals that it needs more fuel and in our case that fuel is food. The colder it gets, the more we want to eat.
But the story has more to offer. The researchers were curious about what is going on in our brains during this process. What they discovered was like discovering a hidden switch that turns on our hunger when it gets cold.
The hidden switch in our brain
In our brain there is an area called the thalamus. Think of it like a control center. Within this control center, the scientists found a specific group of nerve cells, or neurons, that become active when it is cold.
The researchers found that these particular neurons were busier when the mice they studied were feeling cold and hungry.
It was like connecting the dots. Cold weather sets in, these neurons are busy and suddenly we feel hungry. But there is a twist. It’s not just about being cold.
These neurons appear to be more like a thermostat, checking whether the body has stored enough energy. When food was scarce and the weather was cold, these nerve cells were even busier.
To make sure they were on the right track, the scientists tried an experiment. They gently increased the activity of these neurons and found that the mice started searching for food.
On the other hand, when they decreased the activity of these neurons, the mice were no longer as interested in food.
However, these changes only occurred when it was cold, suggesting that our bodies and brains work together in a coordinated response to cold weather.
What does this mean for us?
For most of history, food was not as readily available as it is today. There were no supermarkets or food delivery apps. People had to hunt, gather, or grow their food.
There could be food shortages in the colder months. So our ancestors’ bodies adapted by having a built-in system that made them eat more when it was cold.
This allowed them to store energy for times when food was hard to find.
However, in our modern world where groceries are usually just a fridge or a phone call away, this built in system can lead to overeating.
It’s as if our bodies haven’t kept up with the times and are still preparing for a food shortage that may not materialize.
The Scripps Research team’s discovery could be groundbreaking.
If scientists can find a way to control this “hunger switch” in our brains, they could potentially help people get more in control of their eating habits, especially during the winter.
Even if you’ve tried cold showers or cold water baths for weight loss before, this research might explain why it doesn’t always work as well as we’d like.
Sure, our body burns more energy when it’s cold, but then it also makes us hungrier. Therefore, any benefit from the extra energy we burn can be negated by the extra food we eat.
The next time you suddenly feel the urge to eat more when it’s cold outside, you can blame the busy neurons in your brain. They are just doing their job and making sure you stay warm and have enough energy.
But with this knowledge, we can also pay more attention to our eating habits in the colder months.
And who knows, maybe in the future, thanks to the pioneering work of scientists like those at Scripps Research, we’ll have more control over this hidden switch in our brains.
If you care about health, please read studies about it How the Mediterranean Diet Can Protect Your Brain HealthAnd The best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease.
Further information on the subject of health can be found in current studies Olive oil can help you live longerAnd Vitamin D could help lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.
The study was published in the nature.
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