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article imageOur sweet tooth is linked to the liver

By Tim Sandle     Jan 5, 2016 in Science
Lots of people develop a "sweet tooth," especially after consuming lots of sugar-based foods. The mechanism for this has long eluded researchers. A research team think they have identified the source: a hormone produced by the liver.
A study has revealed a hormone produced by the liver called fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21), functions to suppress the consumption of simple sugars. The hormone is produced in the liver as a biochemical response to high carbohydrate levels.
When the FGF21 hormone enters the bloodstream it sends a signal to the brain to suppress the preference for sweet and sugary foods (the precise neural pathway has yet to be identified.) However, with some people a gene mutation leads to lower levels of FGF21 being produced which results in the ‘sugar craving’ continuing.
It is hoped the research findings can be used to assist people who are diabetic or obese, and help them to cut down on their "sugar addiction." This could be by designing a drug to elevate levels of FGF21 so that people’s craving for sugar is reduced.
In studies in mice, when FGF21 was injected into the bloodstream of the rodents, they consumed lower levels of sugar-based foods when presented with a choice of sugar-rich and low-sugar foodstuffs. Similar eating patterns were observed when genetically-modified mice were studied. The mice were bred so that they either did not produce FGF21 or they produced abnormally high levels (over 500 times more).
Further research is required because FGF21 does not suppress the desire for all sugars (such as sucrose, fructose, and glucose) equally. Furthermore, different effects are seen with carbohydrates of differing complexity. There is a range of different types of sugars, ranging from the simple (like fructose) to the complex (like sucrose — or table sugar.) Each is a sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrate.
The research was conducted at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. The findings are published in the journal Cell Metabolism, in a paper headed “FGF21 Mediates Endocrine Control of Simple Sugar Intake and Sweet Taste Preference by the Liver.”
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