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Alcohol Enhances Brain’s Response To Food Aromas

Ever noticed how drunk people might tend to experience surges in appetite? This greater desire for food after consuming alcoholic beverages has recently been interpreted by a team of researchers from the US as the result of “enhanced smell”. The paper entitled “The apéritif effect: Alcohol’s effects on the brain’s response to food aromas in women” has been published in the journal Obesity.


Studies in the past that have looked into the effect of alcohol on appetite did not focus on the specific role of the brain in mediating the calorific intake. The new study is, therefore, the first of its kind to tackle the subject from this perspective: the results thereof suggest that alcohol affects the brain’s response to food aromas: the person becomes more responsive to smells such that he increases his food intake.

The volunteers were a group of 35 women who were given alcohol via an IV drip before meals. In another experiment, they were administered with a placebo of saline. Their eating behaviour as well as their brain responses to food and non-food aromas were then observed by the scientists. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to scan for how the brain reacted.

It was then found that the women consumed more food after receiving alcohol intravenously than following the placebo drip. Furthermore, in the former case, it was observed that the hypothalamus of the brain known to regulate metabolic processes was more receptive to food aromas.

Therefore, the researchers concluded that alcohol causes the brain to be more responsive to food aromas leading to a greater food intake.

“Our study found that alcohol exposure can both increase the brain’s sensitivity to external food cues, like aromas, and result in greater food consumption,” said William Eiler, the lead author of the study. “Many alcoholic beverages already include empty calories, and when you combine those calories with the aperitif effect, it can lead to energy imbalance and possibly weight gain.”

More research now needs to be done to shed further light on the link between alcohol and appetite, given that alcohol consumption is increasingly common, while obesity is growing more and more into an epidemic.

“This research helps us to further understand the neural pathways involved in the relationship between food consumption and alcohol,” said Martin Binks from Texas Tech University and The Obesity Society in the US. “Often, the relationship between alcohol on eating is oversimplified; this study unveils a potentially more complex process in need of further study.”


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