Hunger Perception Alone Could Potentially Decelerate Aging

by Manuel Costa
Hydrogen Sulfide in Aging Research

A recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Michigan indicates that simply feeling hungry, independent of actual dietary restrictions, might have an aging-slowing effect. Their experiments with flies revealed that the provoked feeling of hunger, either through dietary modifications or neuronal activation, resulted in increased food consumption and a prolonged lifespan.

There’s a myriad of strategies people employ for weight loss, such as low-carb diets, intermittent fasting, surgical operations, and medications like Ozempic. We already know that limiting food intake promotes healthy aging across diverse species, including humans. However, this new study implies that even the bare sensation of hunger could play a part in slowing down aging.

Previous studies have documented that even exposure to the taste and smell of food can neutralize the lifespan-extending benefits of dietary restriction, regardless of actual food consumption.

These fascinating results prompted lead author Kristy Weaver, Ph.D., chief investigator Scott Pletcher, Ph.D., and their team to explore if alterations in the brain, leading to the urge to find food, could extend lifespan.

“The perception of scarcity of food alone suffices,” stated Pletcher. “We’ve essentially separated the life-lengthening effects of diet restriction from any nutritional diet alterations researchers had previously focused on, asserting that they aren’t required.”

The team induced hunger in flies in several manners. One was by modifying the level of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) in test food, subsequently permitting the flies to freely eat yeast or sugar food. Flies given the low-BCAA meal consumed more yeast than sugar compared to flies that ate the high-BCAA meal, suggesting a hunger driven by need.

Interestingly, this behavior wasn’t tied to the calorie content of the low-BCAA snack, as these flies ended up consuming more food and more total calories. Additionally, the lifespan of flies on a lifelong low-BCAA diet was significantly longer than those fed high-BCAA diets.

The researchers, wanting to separate hunger from diet composition, employed a unique technique. They stimulated hunger-associated neurons in flies using exposure to red light through optogenetics, making these flies eat twice as much food as the unstimulated control group. Moreover, these red-light-stimulated flies outlived their counterparts.

“We believe we’ve generated a form of relentless hunger in flies,” Weaver said. “As a result, these flies exhibited longer lives.”

Furthermore, the team mapped how the molecular mechanics of hunger linked to epigenomic changes in the involved neurons. They discovered these neurons reacted to the presence or absence of a specific dietary amino acid. These changes can influence the expression level of certain genes in the fly’s brain, subsequently affecting their feeding behavior and aging.

The authors urged caution in applying these findings to humans but noted that “the mechanisms we’ve discovered likely modulate hunger drives in other species.”

Next, they intend to study how the drive to eat for pleasure, which exists in both flies and humans, might be associated with lifespan.

Reference: “Effects of hunger on neuronal histone modifications slow aging in Drosophila” by K. J. Weaver, R. A. Holt, E. Henry, Y. Lyu, and S. D. Pletcher, 11 May 2023, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.ade1662

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hunger perception and aging

What was the main finding of the University of Michigan study?

The main finding was that the feeling of hunger alone, not just actual food restriction, might slow the process of aging. This was based on experiments with flies where the provoked sensation of hunger led to increased food consumption and a longer lifespan.

Who conducted the research on hunger and aging?

The research was conducted by a team from the University of Michigan, led by Kristy Weaver, Ph.D., and Scott Pletcher, Ph.D.

How was the feeling of hunger induced in the flies for the experiment?

The researchers induced a feeling of hunger in the flies in several ways. One method was by modifying the levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) in their food. In another technique, they activated hunger-associated neurons in the flies using exposure to red light, a method known as optogenetics.

Did the flies consume more food when they felt hungry?

Yes, the flies consumed more food and more total calories when they were made to feel hungry, irrespective of the method used to induce hunger.

Did the flies live longer when they felt hungry?

Yes, the flies that were made to feel hungry, either through dietary changes or through optogenetic activation of neurons, lived significantly longer than flies that were not made to feel hungry.

Can the findings of the research be applied to humans?

While the authors of the study urge caution in directly applying these findings to humans, they note that the mechanisms they discovered are likely to modulate hunger drives in other species, suggesting potential relevance to humans.

More about Hunger perception and aging

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Sarah B. July 20, 2023 - 2:42 pm

mmm… Does this mean i should keep my stomach empty to feel young? or its just about my mind feeling hungry. kinda confusing.

Jane Smith July 20, 2023 - 7:42 pm

So we’re basing our diet now on what happens with flies? Not so convinced tbh…

John Doe July 21, 2023 - 2:08 am

wow, never though that just feeling hungry could slow aging! gotta try it. who needs diets then, huh?

Mike Lewis July 21, 2023 - 6:21 am

This is fascnating research. But it’s important to remember it’s in the early stages. applying this to humans directly may not be safe or effective yet…

Linda Davis July 21, 2023 - 9:46 am

It’s about perception of hunger not actual hunger. It’s a brain thing, not a stomach thing! This is really cool, honestly.


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