Appetite Hormones 101: Ghrelin

“I’ve been treating eating disorders (ED’s) and obesity for nearly 25 years and have always had good outcomes. My rate of success improved dramatically, however, when I discovered the critical role that processed food plays in causing as well as in preventing recovery from Anorexia, Bulimia, Bulimarexia, (a combination of the two) Binge Eating Disorder (BED,) Emotional Eating and Obesity. To this end, I find it of great importance to provide both my patients and readers with relevant nutrition information to aid in their recovery. You can view all my Nutrition, Fitness, and Health articles here.

This is the second part of the series, “Appetite Hormones 101”. This series is designed to explain the role of hormones on both appetite and body weight goals, whether it’s weight loss or weight restoration. “Appetite Hormones 101” will be made up of three articles that describe the major appetite hormones: leptin, ghrelin, and peptide YY.


Ghrelin, discovered in1999 by scientists, is known as “the hunger hormone”. Produced in the stomach and pancreas, Ghrelin stimulates the appetite with the purpose of increasing the intake of food and promoting the storage of fat. So when Ghrelin levels are high, we feel hungry. After we eat, Ghrelin levels fall and we feel satisfied.

Leptin and Ghrelin have a “teeter-totter” relationship. When leptin levels rise, ghrelin levels fall. Likewise, when ghrelin levels rise, leptin levels fall.

Ghrelin levels are highest right before eating meals and lowest right after eating meals.

Leptin, acts on regulatory centres in the brain to inhibit food intake and increase energy expenditure, acting as a long-term regulator of body weight. Whereas Ghrelin is a fast-acting hormone that operates as a meal-initiation signal for short-term regulation of energy balance.

There are distinct abnormalities in the production of Ghrelin among obese and eating disordered individuals. Those with anorexia tend to have high levels of ghrelin which often normalize with weight restoration. Among those with bulimia, Ghrelin does not respond as strongly when food is eaten, which could contribute to binge eating as the individual suffering from Bulimia does not “get full” even if they have overeaten. Obese individuals tend to have low levels of Ghrelin, probably because they are Leptin Resistant, since Leptin and Ghrelin are inversely related. Research also shows that Ghrelin levels are higher after an individual loses weight, which may make it more difficult to maintain weight loss.

There are several easy things we can do to help manage ghrelin levels:

  • Eat a diet high in good quality protein (organic, grass-fed, free range etc. when possible)
  • Get an adequate amount of sleep
  • Practice meditation and relaxation techniques to reduce everyday stress
  • Drink plenty of water, since ghrelin levels are affected by thirst
  • Avoid processed fructose (especially high fructose corn syrup)

Although these things can make irregular ghrelin levels tolerable, the best way to normalize ghrelin levels is to address the root cause head on. In most cases, irregular ghrelin levels can be corrected by committing to living a healthier lifestyle through exercise, healthy dietary choices, weight restoration (for the anorexic individual), or weight loss (for the obese individual).

Medical Advice Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship.

© 2011, Dr J Renae Norton. This information is intellectual property of Dr J Renae Norton. Reproduction and distribution for educational purposes is permissible.

Please credit ‘© 2011, Dr J Renae Norton. //’


Medscape News – Sibling hormone to appetite-boosting ghrelin has opposite effects, raising hopes for a new obesity treatment – //

WiseGEEK – What Is Ghrelin? – //

Journal of Pediatrics – Ghrelin levels in obesity and anorexia nervosa: effect of weight reduction or recuperation – //

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