You might hear your stomach rumbling, telling you to fill it with something tasty, but the actual impulse to eat originates in the brain. Now researchers studying the brain cells responsible—called agouti-related protein (AgRP) neurons—say that alcohol activates them, thereby triggering the urge to eat even though alcohol can be highly caloric, reports Scientific American. To test this, researchers at a lab in London got mice drunk and watched the electrical activity of AgRP neurons spike, which seems to explain why following these binge-drinking sessions, the mice ate a lot more—even though their bodies weren't even remotely in need of calories. The findings won't necessarily translate to humans, but the researchers note in the journal Nature Communications that alcohol intake is already associated with overeating in humans.
"I don't doubt that AgRP neurons are activated in humans," says a study co-author, "and that's why you see this effect." AgRP neurons are normally activated in times of starvation, compelling a person to eat, and the study notes that it seems this "widely consumed nutrient can paradoxically sustain brain starvation signals." Obesity and heavy drinking play major roles in the development of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic health issues now affecting millions globally, reports Reuters. But, says the co-author, "This study ties them together. (It) shows that if you have an increased alcohol intake, then you're going to, as a result of that through the effect of alcohol on your brain, have an elevated level of food intake." (Scientists have decided there are four kinds of drunks.)