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Mind over mass: Cholesterol levels might be controlled by brain circuitry

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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cholesterol control brain hormone goodWhen your stomach growls and you have the urge to reach for the nearest snack, it is, in a way, your tummy talking. Those signals are in part sparked by the gut-based hunger hormone ghrelin, which blocks certain receptors in the brain, telling your body when it is time to eat.

But a team of researchers thinks this hormone might be doing more than just urging you to pile on some calories. It might also be helping to regulate the levels of cholesterol in your bloodstream. The new research was published online June 6 in Nature Neuroscience (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group).

Although so-called bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) can result in clogged arteries and cardiovascular disease, good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) is thought to actually prevent plaque build-up in the arteries by helping to transport lipids more smoothly through the bloodstream. Cholesterol levels have long been thought to be mainly a factor of diet and liver function. But new research in mouse models shows that changes in ghrelin and in a ghrelin-inhibited receptor in the hypothalamus altered how much HDL went to the liver for processing and how much remained in the blood stream.

"Our study shows for the first time that cholesterol is also under direct ‘remote control’ by specific neurocircuitry in the central nervous system," Matthias Tschöp, a professor of endocrinology at the University of Cincinnati and coauthor of the paper, said in a prepared statement.

More specifically, by upping the levels of ghrelin in the mice, the researchers saw an increased amount of HDL cholesterol in the bloodstreams of the lab animals—regardless of diet or body mass. Because higher levels of HDL are thought to help prevent build-up of arterial plaque, boosting levels of it in the bloodstream could be a good way to fight harmfully high levels of LDL. The researchers got the same high HDL levels results when they blocked the hypothalamus’ melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R) either by knocking it out or shutting it down with other chemicals.

"We were stunned to see that by switching MC4R off in the brain, we could even make injected cholesterol remain in the blood much longer," Tschöp noted. Although further research will be necessary to see if the same pathway is active in humans, the link could pave the way for drugs that treat cholesterol or metabolic syndrome by targeting this hormone or brain receptor.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto/theasis





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  1. 1. JamesDavis 7:14 am 06/7/2010

    Instead of designing more drugs that can, and always does, have some very harmful side-effects, why don’t people with higher than normal LDL let their stomachs growl until early evening and then eat oat bars and no fatty meats, or no meats at all, until their LDL comes down. The rest of their meal can consist of high protein vegetables.

    People can stay on this diet for as long as they want, control and loose weight and control their cholesterol too, all at the same time. Contra to the advertisements on television, just because your stomach growls doesn’t mean you have to stuff your mouth full of food like a pig…and stay away from all sugar laden foods. If you are craving sweets…have a piece of tropical fruit.

    A "good, non-greedy" doctor, instead of giving you dangerous drugs, should tell you how to control your diet to lower your cholesterol and control your sugar level too.

    Link to this
  2. 2. gbcjjj 3:45 pm 06/7/2010

    My total cholesterol has always been a little high. If I do
    then meals more spaced in time, according
    what is written in the article, I will increase my level of
    ghrelin in the blood, then will I increase HDL?

    Link to this
  3. 3. sunnystrobe 6:31 am 06/8/2010

    You might-or or might not! It’s not only the ‘when’ but also the ‘what’ that counts in nutrition; one thing is clear: switching to a diet of mainly raw fruits and vegetables will automatically lower bad cholesterol levels. Eating mainly animal-derived food , however, means you are ingesting foreign cholesterol that’s wreaking the havoc. It’s also oxidised and heat-coagulated cholesterol for which we weren’t designed, being the closest relatives of chimpanzees, DNA-wise.
    To see how easy & non-greasy food intake can be, visit Youthevity.com

    Link to this
  4. 4. GeorgeMHarrison 7:10 pm 01/6/2011

    Im now forty years old and have been suffering from pancreatitis for over ten years. I realized there was a problem when i was a crab fisherman out at sea about the age of 25. The high fat one meal a day diet i think started all my problems.To avoid attacks one must carefully watch what they eat. At the first indication that an attack may be coming on STOP EATING. Low fat chicken broth and water is all i suggest until the pain has eased. Then carefully add carbohydrates and vegetables. Start with small portions a couple times a day and slowly increase to three, four, five or even six small meals a day. Fat and spices are now your bodies enemy so avoid like the plague. Keep your spirits high for this isnt the end of the world but a new start in your life and the people around you.

    Link to this
  5. 5. ammyy 2:23 am 02/28/2011

    The trick to achieving a normal cholesterol range is simply to change one’s lifestyle. You should eat healthy and exercise more.Through better nutrition, LDL cholesterol levels can be greatly lowered in no
    time. Failure to do this will result in a huge risk for coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, and stroke.
    Reference:
    http://www.hdlcholesterollevels.org/ldl-cholesterol-how-to-reduce-them/

    Link to this
  6. 6. ammyy 2:24 am 02/28/2011

    With the number of people who have become more conscious about their health increasing, finding ways to be in control of one’s health has become a huge advantage. This is why those who are looking for ways to start lowering LDL cholesterol are really interested in the tips that other people share.

    They know that they need to maintain a positive cholesterol level in their body and in order to do that, LDL cholesterol (bad) should be kept to a minimum.
    Reference:
    <a href="http://www.hdlcholesterollevels.org/ldl-cholesterol-how-to-reduce-them/">ldl cholesterol how to reduce them</a>

    Link to this
  7. 7. kayus4321 7:17 am 04/27/2011

    i had been taught that HDL is the check to LDL but having read about the recent studies,i now realize that there is an hormone in the brain that work in tandem with HDL in checking the cholesterol in the body.

    kayus4321-http://loseweightfact.blogspot.com/2011/04/diet-that-cut-down-on-triglyceride-and.html

    Link to this

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