Overeating and the Brain

Contributed by Dr. Damian Rodriguez, DHSc, MS

Zona incerta. This little-studied part of the brain is a region of gray matter located below the thalamus. While it is theorized that it may be involved in various manners of sensory input, pain, and the sleep-wake cycle, it is one of the least understood regions of the brain and its functions are almost totally unknown. But a recently published study suggests that the zona incerta may be a significant factor in why we seem to blow through an entire bag of potato chips if we’ve skipped a few meals or as we wind down from the day in front of the TV.

After noticing that patients receiving subthalamus stimulation for various movement disorders seemed to exhibit characteristics often associated with overeating, researchers decided to explore the zona incerta a little more. Using a highly advanced biological technique involving light control, known as optogenetics, researchers were able to stimulate GABA neurons (inhibitory neurons in the central nervous system) located within the zona incerta and observe some startling responses.1 GABA stimulation almost immediately promoted almost uncontrollable urges to consume large amounts of sweet and salty foods, and ultimately resulted in weight gain. Researchers also found that extended periods without food (i.e., skipping breakfast) excited these same GABA neurons, likely due to measured increases in ghrelin, the “hunger” hormone, which is secreted by the gastrointestinal tract.

While these findings provide little in the way of helping us minimize those late-night cravings, they do advance our understanding of the function of the zona incerta and how disrupting hormonal homeostasis is involved in satiety and weight management. Further research is planned examining GABA zona incerta neurons and their influence on eating behaviors. Until then, before you head to the refrigerator, don’t forget to take advantage of the satisfying aroma of Grapefruit essential oil by adding a few drops to your diffuser.2,3


doTERRA Science blog articles are based on a variety of scientific sources. Many of the referenced studies are preliminary and further research is needed to gain greater understanding of the findings. Some articles offer multiple views on general health topics and are not the official position of doTERRA. Consult your healthcare provider before making changes to diet or exercise.

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