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Research conducted at the University of Adelaide has found that the nerves in the stomach that signal fullness become desensitised in obese people - and fail to revert back to normal even after the patients lose weight through dieting.
The team behind the study, which was published in the International Journal of Obesity, believe this could explain why most people who lose weight through dieting later regain the weight.
"The stomach's nerve response does not return to normal upon return to a normal diet," said Associate Professor Amanda Page, from the university's Nerve-Gut Research Laboratory. “This means you would need to eat more food before you felt the same degree of fullness as a healthy individual.”
Leptin, a hormone produced by the body, is known to regulate food intake - but can also alter the sensitivity of the nerves in the stomach that signal fullness. Normally, leptin stops food intake in healthy people. However, in the case of obesity induced by a high-fat diet, leptin desensitises the nerves in the gut.
"These two mechanisms combined mean that obese people need to eat more to feel full, which in turn continues their cycle of obesity," Associate Professor Page said.
"Unfortunately, our results show that the nerves in the stomach remain desensitised to fullness after weight loss has been achieved.”
According to associate Professor Page, the results have "very strong implications" for obese people and those trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss through dieting.
"We know that only about 5 per cent of people on diets are able to maintain their weight loss, and that most people who've been on a diet put all of that weight back on within two years," she said.
Associate Professor Page said that more research needs to be conducted in order to determine whether the desensitisation is permanent.
IMAGE CREDIT: jeffreyw