Why don't you make best use of your energy reserves?

02 April 2012
Presented by Hannah Critchlow


This week we find out why our bodies can't get their priorities right. We find out why we seek out food when we already have enough energy stored around our waists in the form of love handles and pot bellies. Plus we ask - will our skin soak up the calories in sun cream?

In this episode

Venus von Willendorf

00:00 - Why doesn't my body make best use of my energy reserves?

Many of us have some extra energy stored as fat, so why do we ever feel hungry? Why doesn't the body manage it's reserves well enough to take advantage of the resources it has available to it?

Why doesn't my body make best use of my energy reserves?

We put this question to Professor Stephen O'Rahilly from the Institute of Metabolic Science at Addenbrookes Hospital and Dr. Giles Yeo from Cambridge University... Stephen - My name is Stephen O'Rahilly and I work in the on the Addenbrooke's campus. The signals to eat and the signals to be hungry seem to be generated from within the brain. Two of the key signals that allow the brain to access information about the state of nutrition are the hormones leptin and ghrelin. Leptin comes from fat tissue and probably its most important function is that when we become too thin and the leptin level drops in the blood below a certain threshold, then we become ravenously hungry. However, when we have accumulated too much fat, our brain tends to become effectively deaf to the signals coming from adipose tissue. Ghrelin has a rather opposite effect. It's a hormone produced by the stomach and it's an anticipator of meals. It rises before we expect to have a meal and it seems to have a critical role in promoting food intake and promoting our ability to lay down food as fat.

Giles - Given the importance that eating has on keeping us alive, our brain has evolved mechanisms to make sure that it also feels good or rewarding to eat, the "Ooh factor." Certain foods such as energy dense, sweet and sticky desserts trigger the "Ooh factor" better than others, giving us the motivation, making sure we store all the extra energy we can. Remember, we have evolved over tens of thousands of years to stay alive through multiple famines and any increase in motivation to continue to search for food was an evolutionary advantage. Our problem is that after years of natural selection, ensuring that we eat as much as possible to stay alive, we now have to try and adapt to an environment of too much food. Hannah - So, the hunger hormone grehlin spikes before mealtimes giving us learned hunger pangs even if love handles and pot bellies are already kindly storing energy for us around our waists since we have evolved to be motivated by food and seek it out. Andrew Reitemeyer and Aureliano Buendia agree, adding via Facebook, that we are programmed to build up energy reserves and to conserve them as much as possible in preparation for times of scarcity. Our bodies have not necessarily yet learnt to adapt to this new, full fat, environment, and that, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, makes it difficult for us to fit into our summer swimwear.......


Add a comment