Calming the Brain’s Response to Food

Your brain’s response to food is one of the key tools that your body uses to protect you from starving or losing too much weight. Even bad food starts looking really good and thoughts about food crowd out everything else in the brain.

In a featured presentation at ENDO 2016, Olivia Farr and colleagues demonstrated that liraglutide works – at least in part – by reducing the brain’s response to highly desirable foods like cakes, pastries, and fries. Using functional MRI, the investigators found less reward activation in the brain’s cortex after exposure to images of those foods as compared to more boring images of fruits, vegetables, and other less stimulating foods. Farr explained:

This decreased activation means that individuals on liraglutide find highly desirable foods less attention-grabbing and less rewarding than they typically would without liraglutide. Thus, this medication may prove to be better for weight loss for people who tend to eat more high-fat food as a reward, such as when they are stressed. Our study identifies neural targets for more effective weight loss therapeutics in the future.

Most notably, Farr’s research demonstrated for the first time that GLP-1 receptors – the very receptors that liraglutide acts upon – are present in the brain. The dose of liraglutide used in this research was the lower dose (1.8 mg) used to treat diabetes. A higher, 3 mg dose is used to treat obesity under the brand name Saxenda.

The Endocrine Society singled out Farr’s research as one of the most outstanding papers presented at their annual meeting in Boston this past weekend. It lays the groundwork for further research to understand the role for drugs that act on GLP-1 receptors in treating obesity. It also opens the possibility of  targets for new drugs that will be even more effective.

This research is a small piece of an exciting body of work that is pointing the way to overcoming obesity for many millions of people who are living with this chronic disease.

Click here to read more from Endocrinology Advisor, here to read a statement from the Endocrine Society, and here and here to read the abstracts that Farr and her colleagues presented at ENDO 2016.

Neurons, photograph © Bryan Jones / flickr

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April 4, 2016

5 Responses to “Calming the Brain’s Response to Food”

  1. April 04, 2016 at 7:03 am, gerry stanewick said:

    how about vbloc…pills won’t work and the side effects of liraglutide used for extended periods on non-diabetic patients are unknown

    • April 04, 2016 at 4:45 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Gerry. VBLOC can definitely be helpful. No one option works for all.

  2. April 04, 2016 at 10:18 am, Allen Browne said:

    How liguritide works – we only know what we know – and then we sometimes learn more.

  3. April 04, 2016 at 10:37 am, Joan Ifland said:

    These pharmaceuticals seem to follow a pattern. They come out full of hope and are then taken off the market years later when it’s shown that they have harmful side effects. A clean, unprocessed food plan will also reduce reactivity with dozens of great side-effects.

    • April 04, 2016 at 4:46 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks Joan.