March 9, 2016 5:05pm
GRANT McARTHURHEALTH EDITORHerald Sun
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Drugs to stimulate Ghrelin hormone linked to hunger could protect against Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease
Dr Andrews said potential medications would work as a preventive option
rather than a cure.
FOOLING a person’s body into thinking they are hungry could protect them
from developing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, new Melbourne
A “hunger hormone” released to tell a person they need to seek food has
also been found to protect brain cells from degenerating, opening a
potential new way of holding off a host of neurodegenerative conditions.
But while cutting the calories a person eats can stimulate the Ghrelin
hormone into action, the Monash University researchers believe
medication could instead be used to release the hormone and convince the
body to protect the brain without having to diet.
Revealing results of animal studies into the process, Assoc Prof Zane
Andrews said diabetes drug Metformin, which is already available, has
been shown to activate the brain-protective mechanism and could be among
a group of medications able to prevent or delay Parkinson’s and
“While we know calorie restriction is important to help keep us healthy,
as a race we find it hard to limit the amount of food we consume,” Dr
“This (medication) is bypassing that need to adhere to a strict diet
regimen and hopefully still get the same benefits, if we can manage to
tweak it for a therapeutic approach.”
Potential treatments would work to protect brain cells from degenerating.
Results published in The Journal of Neuroscience reveal that when
Ghrelin is released the hormone activates a protein in the brain called
AMPK that prevents dopamine cells from degenerating, which is the cause
of Parkinson’s disease.
By boosting the Ghrelin production in mice with a condition mimicking
human Parkinson’s disease, researchers from Monash’s Biomedicine
Discovery Institute were able to greatly reduce the symptoms than in
those without the hunger hormone.
Assoc Prof Andrews believes Ghrelin works by serving a primitive
function of stimulating the brain to remember how to find food — in the
same way physical activity has been shown to hold off neurodegenerative
conditions by exercising the mind.
“What we think has occurred is that our brains have slightly evolved to
be better under those slightly hungry conditions,” Dr Andrews said.
“Ghrelin is the key hormone that we think is giving this signal of
hunger to the brain, and the brain is adapting to that.”
While the Monash research has opened the potential for a range of new
drug options to be investigated, it is less clear who would most benefit
from them because they would work best as a preventive option before
“I don’t think it would cause you to never have Parkinson’s, what it
would do is keep the brain healthier in order to delay the onset of a
neurological condition,” Dr Andrews said.
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