Sahlgrenska University researchers recommend that one should not make a decision when hungry. Apparently, they found that the ghrelin, a hormone produced before eating to increase appetite, can make a person more impulsive.

The increased levels of ghrelin negatively affected impulse control and decision making. Targeting the hormone may help solve many mental health problems associated with impulse control.

When the mice tested were given with this hormone directly to the brain, they were incapable of resisting the urge to press the lever when the researchers gave them the “no-go” signal, even knowing during their training that pushing the lever during the “no-go” signal will not bring them any reward. The team says that these brain changes were similar to the changes observed in patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD).


The hormone released when you’re hungry can disrupt your impulse control. Credit: Pexels

The researchers compare the animals’ impulsivity to people choosing to eat unhealthy foods despite knowing the negative consequences of the diet. However, when they blocked the hormone, they observed that this prevented impulsive behaviour.

“Our results showed that restricting ghrelin effects to the ventral tegmental area, the part of the brain that is a crucial component of the reward system, was sufficient to make the rats more impulsive. Importantly, when we blocked ghrelin, the impulsive behaviour was greatly reduced,” adds Karolina Skibicka, a docent from Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg.

Even fasting for a short period of time can increase the release of ghrelin. Consequently, the tendency to impulsive behaviour is also increased.

Since impulsivity can be observed in many neuropsychiatric disorders and behaviour disorders which includes ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder, drug abuse, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and eating disorders, the researchers believe that further studies of the hormone can pave the way to treatments that can help alleviate these problems.

“Our results indicate that the ghrelin receptors in the brain can be a possible target for future treatment of psychiatric disorders that are characterised by problems with impulsivity and even eating disorders,” adds Skibicka.