Produced by the stomach and pancreas, ghrelin is nicknamed “hunger hormone” since it stimulates the appetite and is linked to the feeling of satiety. In a new study, the results of which were presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society (ENDO 2021), researchers have found a link between this hormone and financial decision-making.
Ghrelin signals the need to eat to the brain and can modulate the brain pathways that control reward processing, detail the authors of the study in a press release. Ghrelin levels thus fluctuate throughout the day, depending on food intake and metabolism.
The study here was conducted among 84 participants aged 10 to 22: 50 of them had an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, while the remaining 34 participants were in good health. The research team measured the blood levels of ghrelin before and after a so-called “standardized” meal, which was the same for all participants, who had also fasted previously. After the meal, the participants took a test of hypothetical financial decisions, called a “deadline updating task”. They were asked to make a series of choices to indicate their preference for a small but immediate monetary reward, or a larger but deferred amount of money. In other words, for example, choose between receiving $ 20 today or $ 80 within 14 days.
A more impulsive choice when the ghrelin level is higher
Healthy girls and young women with higher ghrelin levels were more likely to choose the immediate but smaller monetary reward rather than wait for a larger sum of money, the researchers reported. This preference indicates more impulsive choices, Plessow said.
Verdict: Healthy girls and young women who had higher ghrelin levels were more likely to choose the immediate but lower monetary reward, rather than waiting for more money. According to the researchers, these results indicate more impulsive choices, possibly due to the high level of ghrelin.
In contrast, no such association was observed in participants with eating disorder. Note that anorexia is known to be associated with resistance to ghrelin, so this finding could be a new indicator of a disconnection between ghrelin signaling and this eating behavior.
“Our results indicate that ghrelin may play a larger role than previously recognized in human reward behavior and decision making, such as monetary choices.”, Commented Franziska Plessow, co-author of the study. “This will hopefully inspire future research into its role in human food-independent perception and behavior.”, She concluded.