High levels of ghrelin, a digestive hormone that stimulates appetite, are linked to greater impulsiveness in financial decisions, shows a study presented at the 2021 annual meeting of the Endocrine Society. Ghrelin, known as the “hunger hormone”, signals the need to eat to the brain and can modulate the brain pathways that regulate reward processing. Ghrelin levels fluctuate throughout the day, depending on food intake and individual metabolism.
Franziska Plessow of Harvard University and colleagues conducted this study with 84 female participants aged 10 to 22, 50 of whom suffered from an eating disorder linked to underweight (QUICK CALCULATION of your ideal weight), such as anorexia, and 34 participants had no eating disorder.
Ghrelin blood levels were measured before and after a standardized meal, identical for all participants, who had previously been fasting.
After the meal, the participants took a hypothetical financial decisions test. They were asked to make a series of choices in which they indicated their preference for a smaller immediate amount of money or a larger deferred amount, for example $ 20 today or $ 80 in 14 days.
Participants without an eating disorder who had higher ghrelin levels were more likely to choose the immediate cash reward but less. This preference indicates impulsiveness.
The relationship between ghrelin level and monetary choices was absent in participants with an eating disorder and low weight. People with this disorder are known to show resistance to ghrelin. These findings could be another indicator of a disconnect between ghrelin signaling and behavior in people who have it.
“Our results indicate that ghrelin could play a larger role than that previously recognized in reward behavior and decision-making, such as monetary choices,” says the researcher. “We hope this will inspire future research on its role in independent food perception and behavior. "
The results of recent rodent research also suggested that ghrelin may play a role in impulsive choices and behaviors, says the researcher.