Closing time at the bars usually sends scores of intoxicated men and women to the nearest diner or fast-food restaurant. In a new study, researchers at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine investigated what makes alcohol and high-fat junk food go so well together, finding that this union seems to be mediated by a shared brain circuit in the brain.
"Obesity and alcoholism, two of the most common chronic disorders in the United States, may be behaviorally linked as binge intake of palatable diets, such as diets high in fat, and binge alcohol intake may utilize the same neurocircuitry," the researchers wrote.
The new findings agree with previous studies which found that alcohol consumption affects the same areas of the brain that control overeating.
For their study, the researchers experimented with three groups of adult male mice, each with different eating and drinking patterns. One group had unlimited access to a high-fat diet and had limited access to drinking water mixed with alcohol; the second group ate normal rodent food and had limited access to the same kind of alcoholic beverage as the first group; the third group had limited access to both high-fat foot and alcohol beverage. Over the course of eight weeks, the ratio of alcohol to drinking water was incrementally increased from 10% to 20%. Throughout the trial, all the animals were offered access to drinking water.
Animals in the third group, also known as the "binge diet", had a weight-gain and weight-loss cycle associated with binge eating and drank more alcohol than water during their access period. The other groups consumed less alcohol than the binge diet group.
The results suggest that limited access to high-fat food promotes binge-like eating patterns, which also primes the brain for more alcohol consumption.
"Given the increasing rates of binge drinking and overall obesity rates in the U.S. in recent years, we think this new mouse model will be of critical importance in the near future," wrote Caitlin Coker, MS, first author of the study which was presented at the American Physiological Society's (APS) annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2019 in Orlando, Fla.
This wasn't the first time that scientists have identified a link between alcohol consumption and eating behavior. Alcohol adds calories to your daily intake without offering much nutritive value in return. However, instead of filling you up and making you eat less, alcohol seems to have the opposite effect. For instance, one study identified the so-called apéritif effect, whereby consuming an alcoholic beverage (with 20 g of alcohol) before lunch led to an 11% increase in total food intake during the meal, and a 24% increase in high-fat savory foods.
Too much alcohol can lead to health problems, including being overweight. However, light to moderate alcohol intake can be healthy since its rich antioxidant content can offer protection against heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and more.