Digestive Inflammation, Ghrelin and Food Cravings

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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Ghrelin is the hunger hormone made by your stomach; it travels to your brain and impacts your desire to eat. Digestive inflammation elevates ghrelin and increases appetite even when you don’t need food. The more you crave sugar or carbohydrates the greater the problem. The problem can extend to an intense craving for high calorie foods of any type, and a subconscious desire to excessively indulge in the pleasure of eating for pleasure’s sake.

Digestive Inflammation and Appetite

Ghrelin activation is vital for maintaining your blood sugar during calorie restriction or starvation. It is also required for the release of growth hormone that repairs your body and for bowel motility so that your digestive tract moves along in a timely manner and you don’t get heartburn. Ghrelin levels are elevated during digestive distress in an effort to coordinate repair of your digestive tract. If digestive issues persist, ghrelin will remain elevated.

The adverse side effect of elevated ghrelin is that your appetite will increase and you will eat more food, making you gain weight. On the other hand, if you lose your appetite from the digestive inflammation then your body is entering a more serious state of inflammatory-driven malnutrition.

Research pointing out this unique feature of ghrelin comes in part from Celiac research1. Patients with Celiac have highly elevated ghrelin2 that correlates directly to the amount of digestive damage, which lowers when they quit eating gluten for a while. It also comes from research showing that ghrelin is elevated by bacterial endotoxins known as LPS3 (which also inflame your digestive tract). The research shows that ghrelin acts as a powerful repair compound to assist digestive healing4.

It is unfortunate that millions of Americans live with chronic digestive imbalances characterized by an overgrowth of hostile bacteria or candida albicans, resulting in an ongoing overload of LPS toxins and other inflammatory irritants that constantly inflame the GI tract. 

Since elevated ghrelin drives the urge for sugar or carbohydrates, it means that cravings for these concurrent with digestive distress indicates a flare up or problem with an overgrowth of bacteria or candida albicans. It also means that when you eat better and improve your digestive health that the cravings will go away because your digestive tract is doing better.

How to Improve Digestive Health, Balance Ghrelin, and Reduce Cravings

Friendly flora and fiber - Make sure that you are getting higher levels of fiber, 30 - 60 grams per day. Fiber helps bind LPS and acts as a substrate for the fermentation of friendly flora in your digestive tract. Friendly flora supplements have been shown to lower LPS by promoting a better balance of bacteria in your digestive tract, and would be a basic step in addition to higher fiber intake. Friendly flora has been shown to reduce other types of digestive inflammation as well.

Colostrum and bitter herbs - Colostrum helps improve digestive tract repair. Research shows bovine colostrum taken by humans can lower blood levels of toxic LPS and lower inflammatory markers. It contains unique compounds that help heal an inflamed digestive tract. By protecting against damage to the intestinal linings, colostrum has been shown to prevent bacteria from entering the body. I often combine colostrum with bitter herbs like gymnema sylvestre and inula racemosa to help curb cravings.

Chlorella - Chlorella is a nutrient-dense green algae superfood that has also been shown to lower LPS levels in the blood while repairing the digestive tract, directly offsetting the stress of bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract. Chlorella helps lower high leptin levels, prevent excess new fat cells, and can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol.

If you have digestive distress and excess carbohydrate cravings, at least part of the problem is your digestive system trying to fix itself and repair its lining. Those with a history of digestive issues should recognize increased carbohydrate or sugar cravings as a potential first sign in a flare up of digestive problems. Taking fast action to correct the digestive issue will not only stabilize your health, it may prevent you from gaining weight or gaining back weight after a period of weight loss.

Referenced Studies:
  1. ^ Ghrelin Levels Relate to Digestive Damage in Celiac  Neurogastroenterol Motil.   Rocco A, Sarnelli G, Compare D, de Colibus P, Micheli P, Somma P, Marotti B, Cuomo R, Nardone G.
  2. ^ Degree of Celiac Damage Reflected in Ghrelin Levels  Dig Dis.  Malandrino N, Capristo E, Farnetti S, Leggio L, Abenavoli L, Addolorato G, Gasbarrini G.
  3. ^ Endotoxin Stimulates Ghrelin Release   Crit Care Med.   Yilmaz Z, Ilcol YO, Ulus IH.
  4. ^ Ghrelin is Intimately Involved in Digestive Tract Repair  PLoS ONE.  Wu R, Dong W, Ji Y, Zhou M, Marini CP, Ravikumar TS, Wang P.

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