The Science Behind Why Alcohol Makes You Eat More

published Jan 12, 2017
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There’s really nothing better than a slice of cheap pizza after you’ve had a little too much to drink. And the anecdotal evidence is strong: Anyone who has had too much alcohol can vouch for the desire to nosh on some snacks. It turns out that scientists even have a name for this specific desire: the apéritif effect.

While you might accredit increased hunger on diminished self-restraint that comes with drinking booze, science has a different answer that might surprise you.

Researchers at the UK’s Francis Crick Institute ran tests on mice to learn that alcohol activates “starvation mode” in the brain, reports the BBC. In the study, male and female mice were injected in the abdomen with alcohol — the equivalent of a person drinking roughly two bottles of wine — for three days. The team found the mice, regardless of gender, consumed significantly more food than their sober counterparts. This effect was especially prominent on the second day of the experiment.

The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Nature Communications, also saw a spike in activity of a very specific type of brain cell: neurons known as AgRP. These brain cells, present in both mice and humans, are activated in people when the body starves. Thus, the increase in AgRP activity offers a possible explanation for why people get hungry after drinking.

To further test the effects of the neurons, the researchers followed up with a second round of the exact same experiment — except this time around they used a drug to block the AgRP neurons. When the neurons were blocked, the mice did not eat as much, suggesting that alcohol activates AgRP neurons, which, in turn, tell the body to eat more.

The study is preliminary and has limitations, but the findings of this study offer an explanation for the apéritif effect. It also provides drinkers with valuable insight on how alcohol potentially impacts their food consumption and can serve as a way to moderate their caloric intake.