You wake up feeling like someone kidnapped you during the night, hitched your feet to the back of a Jeep, and took you for a ten-mile drag through a rock scramble. As you walk over to the bathroom mirror, you’re startled by a pounding, the sound of some behemoth with ham-sized fists trying to get into your house. You then realize it’s the sound of your own footsteps reverberating through your skull. You look in the mirror. There before you is a face you do not wish to see twice in your life. You stick out your tongue because you could swear it’s wearing a wool sweater. It isn’t, and you’re thankful at least for that. You cannot remember what happened last night, but you know there was booze.
Although you’ve never felt closer to the grave, you are also hungry. What’s more, you’re craving greasy food. You’re ravenous for it, actually, and if it weren’t for the fact that you’re moving like a Walking Dead extra, you’d probably stop at nothing to get it.
It’s time for breakfast.
The chief suspect
The above scenario is one that is unfortunately all too familiar to many people. Recent studies undertaken at Princeton and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro have yielded a theory behind alcohol intake and the craving for fatty foods. It has to do with Galanin.
Galanin is a neuropeptide, a chemical used by the neurons in our brain as a sort of interoffice messaging service. Galanin is found in the gut, as well as along the central nervous system. We know three things about galanin:
- An increase in galanin causes a craving for fatty foods.
- Galanin levels are increased after alcohol intake.
- Eating fatty foods also produces galanin.
Notice a pattern?
One can picture galanin as some self-replicating mutant from a 1950s B-movie; a giant fat glutton bent on consuming everything in its path. Well, that’s not exactly the case. However, there is something about this scenario that suggests unrestrained behavior.
Out of control
The need for nourishment is the body’s natural call for metabolic regulation. We tend to crave foods high in fat when we haven’t eaten for some time. The reason is simple: higher fat equals a greater energy boost, and galanin is produced to ensure that we crave it. It is when we introduce alcohol into the picture that this regulatory process shifts out of whack. It seems the factors involved in galanin production are no more susceptible to an alcoholic lowering of inhibitions than we are. We dance on tables, our brains overproduce galanin.
While reporting on the University of North Carolina study, Professor William Gruchow speculated that triglycerides might also play a role in this out-of-control galanin production. Triglycerides, normally stored in fat cells, are released as energy when the body hasn’t had nourishment.