UCI LogoAccording to a recent study, fats in certain foods make them quite hard to resist and trigger a biological mechanism which is likely to cause gluttonous behavior. Led by Daniele Piomelli and Nicholas DiPatrizio, this study was conducted by a team of researchers from the University of California. They believe that there are certain chemicals in the body called endocannabinoids which are similar to marijuana and cause this phenomenon to occur.

The research team discovered that when rats tasted something fatty, endocannabinoids were generated by cells in their upper gut. Proteins and sugars however did not have such an effect. This process apparently begins on the tongue where fats in food produce a signal that travels first to the brain and then via a nerve bundle called the vagus to the intestines. The signal then activates the production of endocannabinoids, which results in a spurt in cell signaling. The cell signaling is believed to stimulate reckless intake of fatty foods.

“This is the first demonstration that endocannabinoid signaling in the gut plays an important role in regulating fat intake,” commented the Louise Turner Arnold Chair of Neurosciences.

According to Piomelli, from an evolutionary point of view there has always been an imperative need in animals to ingest fats. Probably this is because they are available in scanty quantities in nature but are vital for proper functioning of cells. But in present day human society, fats are available easily and the inner need to consume fatty foods results in dangers such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.

This research has found that it could be possible to control this tendency by blocking endocannabinoid activity, by probably using drugs that ‘clog’ cannabinoid receptors. Since these drugs wouldn’t need to enter the brain, they may apparently not cause the central side effects like anxiety and depression, which can be seen when endocannabinoid signaling is obstructed in the brain.

The results of this study feature in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.