Ghrelin and the Bright Side of the Hunger Demon

Whoever named the hormone ghrelin seriously made it sound like some kind of evil elf monster.  Well it’s not.  I believe this hormone is largely misunderstood and we are missing the boat by working hard to suppress it.  Maybe folks don’t realize how many benefits this hunger hormone has for our bodies.  By the time you’re through here you’ll be the village expert on the benefits of hunger and how to leverage it for yourself.  It may not help you win Trivial Pursuit but it will certainly help you to think on the bright side when your table is yet to be served or you are skipping the snacks between meals and get the rumbly tummy.
Ghrelin is the hormone released in our stomachs that sends a signal to our brains telling us we’re hungry!  There are also small amounts of this hormone released from the brain itself, the small intestine and the pancreas.  There has been much popular press about ghrelin, teaching us how to suppress this hormone, blaming it for weight gain.  I do not believe our hormones are inherently good or evil, but that they are necessary messengers in our bodies.  Perhaps if we were eating the right amounts of the right things for our bodies and we were able to metabolize the carbs we were eating we wouldn’t be so eager to find someone to blame.
Ghrelin has been found to improve neuroplasticity, decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and increase learning and memory by helping to build the hippocampus.  Yup.  Every time you are hungry you are actually building your brain power and improving your memory.  The addition of injected ghrelin has even been found to improve the conditions of many types of mammals who were already suffering from memory loss.  Could there be a biological need for us to be smarter when we’re hungry?  I think so.  Now if only we could use our brains when we’re eating….
Neuroplasticity is a big deal.  This is our ability to form new neural pathways, repair damage and learn new things.  Have you known someone who had a major head injury and then a new area of the brain developed to compensate for the change?  Neuroplasticity.  And ghrelin can help us with that.  Who knew?  Being hungry can help our brains.
So this is great until you reach the point where your blood sugar is so low that your body releases cortisol, damaging the hippocampus.  So be hungry.  Be hungry before each meal, wait a bit but not long enough to get into crisis and then you can reap the benefits without so much risk.  I love this.  There is a great deal of research on ghrelin’s ability to help the brain.  As you know I prefer studies on human beings for ethical and practical reasons but check out a summary of some of this research in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences HERE
Ghrelin signals the release of growth hormone all over the body.  This hormone (HGH) signals growth and repair, cell reproduction and regeneration, increases calcium retention and may help with bone density.  It also stimulates the immune system and helps to grow and repair our internal organs and helps the liver to stabilize our blood sugars.  Many of us have lower than optimal amounts of growth hormone in our systems because it is suppressed by insufficient sleep, stress and blood sugar dysregulation.
What if simply avoiding mid-morning snacks and allowing ourselves to become hungry could increase growth hormone in our bodies?  In fact it does.  In two different ways.  When our blood sugars and insulin are high we do not release growth hormone so we need enough time after meals for them to go back to baseline and the growth hormone to rise.  And for a double-awesomeness attack our hunger hormone ghrelin signals the release of even more of this powerful regenerating hormone.
Ghrelin has benefits for the digestive system too.  It builds the digestive mucosa.  This is a protective lining on the surface of our inner skin, our stomachs, small and large intestines.  We have mucosa in our lungs and kidneys/bladder too, all of those spaces that seem to be “inside” our bodies but are really on the outside, hollow spaces inside our bodies.  They need to be protected.  Some cases of extreme damage to the digestive mucosa include ulcerative colitis, where the mucosa and intestinal lining get damaged by our own immune systems.  Our mucosa can also be damaged by rough foods, by fasting, by bacterial imbalances or through nutrient deficiencies.
We are making and replenishing this mucosa constantly, every day.  This is why people enjoy taking slippery elm, marshmallow and aloe internally, they protect this important lining.  Our mucosa houses our digestive immunity, makes and stores enzymes to digest medium chain carbohydrates and releases digestive hormones too.  It protects us from unwanted food and bacteria making their way into our bodies.  How great to know that when we are hungry, when we allow ourselves to grumble a bit for food, we are actually signalling healing and protection for our small and large intestines!
Ghrelin has amazing benefits for our digestive tracts, our whole bodies and our brains.  The next time you’re hungry think to yourself:  I’m SO SMART right now or my body is healing itself 🙂

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