Ever noticed how much more you enjoy food after a few drinks?
Of course you have.
The burgers, the pizza, the fries, the tacos, the kebabs, the wings. Not always all together, of course, but still. None ever taste as good as they do on top of alcohol.
The only thing that lets them down is the massive plate of guilt you swallow as dessert, cursing yourself as you do for ruining your diet in a fit of unrestrained gluttony.
But what if it wasn’t your fault?
What if the gorging you chide yourself for was actually a survival mechanism – an automatic neural response that you have no control over?
Wouldn’t you feel better about eating that last potato wedge if you were actually obeying a message sent from your brain with the intention of keeping you alive?
According to research conducted in the UK and published in the journal Nature Communications, and as reported by the BBC, that’s exactly what’s happening.
One effect alcohol has on the brain, say the team at the Francis Crick Institute, is to switch it into starvation mode, which in turn increases hunger and appetite.
The findings come from tests done on mice, who were given generous doses of alcohol – equivalent to around a bottle-and-a-half of wine per person – for three days.
This alcohol resulted in increased activity in the same neurons, called AGRP, that are fired when the body experiences starvation.
Predictably, the mice ate more than normal.
The researchers then blocked the neurons with a drug and repeated the experiment.
Predictably again, the mice did not eat as much.
The researchers believe the same process occurs in the human brain, meaning that AGRP neurons and not a loss of inhibition are responsible for our post-alcohol pig-outs.
The authors of the study, Denis Burdakov and colleagues, hope the findings can help with managing obesity, although alcohol itself is of course not blameless in this or other health risks.
As well as the dangers of overeating after drinking, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, from Alcohol Health Alliance UK, urged people to be aware of the impact alcohol can have on their general health.
“Alcohol is responsible for over 60 illnesses and conditions on its own, and drinkers place themselves at even greater risk when their drinking is combined with overeating: especially because when people drink they are more likely to make less healthy food choices.
“Alcohol and obesity cause 90% of liver deaths and alcohol is twice as toxic to the liver in very obese patients.”
Everything in moderation is the advice.
But if you do find yourself going overboard with the chips, the burritos, the fried chicken, the curry, the chili dogs and the chow mein afterwards, you can at least now claim it’s not your fault.