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How do our hormones affect our food choices?

Project summary

People living with insulin resistance can help to manage their blood sugar levels by making healthier food choices. But a hormone called oxytocin has been found to play a part in the foods we tend to prefer. Dr John Menzies wants to find out more about the link between oxytocin and insulin resistance. Understanding how different hormone levels change in diabetes will help researchers to develop new treatments helping people to make healthier food choices. 

Background to research

People living with type 2 diabetes produce insulin but their bodies find it difficult to use it properly, which is known as insulin resistance. If left unchecked, this can lead to high blood sugar levels. Eating healthily can help people with insulin resistance to manage their blood sugar levels. But there’s some evidence insulin resistance could make this harder to do.   

Scientists have found that rats with insulin resistance often choose to eat more sugary food than rats without insulin resistance. Usually, levels of the hormone called oxytocin go up when people eat foods high in sugar, which send signals to the brain to stop people eating too much sugary food.  

Dr John Menzies wants to find out if insulin resistance is linked to low levels of hormones like oxytocin, and vice versa. This will help him to understand if the foods people living with or at risk of type 2 diabetes choose to eat are affected by their hormones, and whether adjusting hormone levels could help them to make healthier food choices.  

Research aims

Dr Menzies and his team will feed sugary food to rats with and without insulin resistance, which will turn on oxytocin signals. Then they’ll give the rats a choice between more food high in sugar, and a healthy option low in sugar. They’ll measure how much food they eat in total, and how much of it is healthy. This will tell them if rats with insulin resistance choose to eat more overall, and if they prefer sugary food. 

They’ll also see if switching the oxytocin signals on and off affects the rats’ food choices, and if giving them extra oxytocin can encourage them to stop choosing the sugary food so much. 

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Understanding more about how hormones are involved in insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes could allow scientists to develop new treatments which work to balance hormone levels. This could support people with insulin resistance to make healthier food choices, giving them stabler blood sugar levels and in turn a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and its complications. 

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