Are you hungry all the time, even after you’ve just eaten? Do you feel hunger cravings that no type or amount of food can ever fulfill? For most of us, it’s pretty normal to feel hungrier than usual in certain situations, like after extensive periods of physical activity. For others, this extreme hunger is due to other underlying issues that need addressing.
And, there’s actually a medical term for it! Known as hyperphagia or polyphagia, it’s more common among those with diabetes and thyroid issues. However, it can affect anyone due to various underlying causes, including a lack of sleep, stress, premenstrual syndrome, and prediabetes. Here’s more about the condition, potential causes, and tips to address each one.
Hyperphagia (or polyphagia) is a central feature of inherited disorders associated with excessive energy intake. Your body transforms food into energy with the help of metabolism and the digestive system. However, if your food intake is excessive for too long, your digestive system may not be able to process it. If left unaddressed, it can lead to weight gain and obesity issues.
While you can use hyperphagia and polyphagia interchangeably as terms for excessive hunger, there are minor differences. Polyphagia is associated with either weight loss, maintenance, or gain, and hyperphagia is always associated with weight gain.
Multiple factors control your food intake as well as your energy balance. After every meal, satiety signals that your hormones control are responsible for inhibiting feelings of excessive hunger. Hormonal signals provide feedback to the hypothalamus, a small part of the brain that controls the appetite and lets your body know when you’re full. It helps reduce the desire for food.
Hormones such as insulin may also help to inhibit feelings of hunger. So, when your body experiences an insulin deficiency (like in people with diabetes), it can contribute to an excessive food intake. At the same time, hypoglycemia can stimulate the secretion of ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone that promotes food intake. Read on to learn more about the 10 leading causes of hyperphagia.
Diabetes is a common ailment where the body may not produce enough insulin, develop insulin resistance, or doesn’t utilize the insulin that already exists efficiently. Insulin is a hormone that suppresses appetite and may lead to a reduction of food intake. It helps to transport glucose into your cells to provide you with energy. If glucose levels are high and insulin levels low, your body will not use glucose for energy efficiently, which means your cells will require more nutrients, and you end up eating more. Due to these low insulin levels, people hyperphagia is quite common among people with diabetes.
The most common symptoms of diabetic hyperphagia are feelings of uncontrolled hunger (despite eating regularly), extreme food cravings, fluctuations in blood glucose levels, digestive issues, and weight gain.
After every meal, glucose will enter your bloodstream, which then travels to the cells with the help of insulin. You can have low blood sugar levels if you don’t eat enough glucose, or don’t eat often enough throughout the day. Blood sugar can also dip if your body secretes excess insulin or you have diabetes and take insulin on an empty stomach.
Hypoglycemia promotes the secretion of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates food intake and regulates blood glucose. It can increase feelings of hunger and lead to hyperphagia in the presence of an underlying condition.
Hyperglycemia occurs when your body is unable to produce or use insulin efficiently. If your insulin levels are low, glucose can’t enter your cells to provide them with energy efficiently. So it remains in the bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar.
Since your cells can’t get enough energy, your body requests more food, even if you already had a meal. Creating a cycle that can continue on, illustrated by - high blood sugar impacting insulin efficacy, and insulin issues causing excessive hunger, leading to a rise in blood sugar.
Thyroid dysfunctions have significant effects on body weight and appetite. The hypothalamus interprets the hormonal and neuronal signals and sends responses that regulate food intake and energy output.
Thyroid hormones have access to a part of the hypothalamus called the arcuate nucleus, controlling your appetite. Hyperphagia can result from thyroid hormones directly acting on the appetite circuits, which results in excessive hunger.
One of the primary roles of the thyroid is to control metabolism. If your thyroid produces more hormones than usual, it can cause issues like hyperthyroidism, an autoimmune disorder that may lead to increased feelings of hunger.
Managing your weight after a brain injury of any kind can be a serious issue. Hyperphagia usually occurs because of stress, hormonal changes, and medication. But things like hypothalamus injuries may also be a cause. Since your hypothalamus regulates your appetite, damage from injury or a tumor can lead to an increase in appetite.
Another part of the brain that if damaged, the pituitary gland may lead to increased appetite. The pituitary gland controls your body’s hormone levels. Damage can cause pituitary dysfunction, leading to hormonal imbalances and slowing down your metabolism.
Premenstrual syndrome refers to a range of symptoms that you can experience a week before your menstrual cycle. These include mood swings, fatigue, irritability, tender breasts, and food cravings.
PMS usually occurs because of hormonal imbalances, such as estrogen, progesterone, and serotonin, which is a hormone that affects moods, emotions, and thoughts. Changes in progesterone levels can cause cravings for carbs or sweet foods. Eating these foods can lead to a rise in serotonin levels, increasing excessive hunger and food cravings.
You probably already know what emotional eating is. Still, just in case you’ve never experienced it, it’s when you draw emotional comfort from eating. It can occur when you deal with high levels of stress, and the food you pick to satisfy these cravings is, more often than not, pretty unhealthy. Wondering why this is the case? It’s likely because stress causes cortisol secretion. This hormone increases appetite and food cravings.
Getting enough (good quality) sleep is crucial to maintaining good health. A lack of sleep can cause the rise of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and a decrease in leptin, the satiety hormone. This leads to increased feelings of hunger, so it is important to prioritize getting enough sleep. Everyone’s body is different, but most experts recommend at least seven or more hours a night for adults.
A poor diet can be the cause of many health issues. Nutrients provide energy for your body to perform daily activities, from breathing to running. A poor diet could lead to suboptimal nutrition, resulting in either deficiencies or an excess of certain nutrients. Over time, poor diets may lead to hormonal imbalances, slow metabolism, and the risk of diabetes. All these health issues can affect hunger and encourage instances of hyperphagia.
Hormone imbalances affect your health, metabolism, and weight. Certain hormones can influence body fat distribution, which may lead to weight gain or loss. For example, leptin is the satiety hormone released by the fat cells. It helps regulate food intake and energy expenditure in the long term. If your body has an excess of fat tissue, this could lead to an excessive amount of leptin. Unfortunately, this can cause a resistance to leptin, which means that even though you eat enough food, you will not feel full.
Even low levels of leptin can cause hyperphagia. When your body doesn’t produce any leptin, your brain thinks that your body doesn’t have any fat tissue. It can lead to uncontrolled and excessive hunger, leading to weight gain.
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