Get All Access for $5/mo

New Research Shows How the Liver Fights Off Sugar Cravings A protein in the body could hold the secret to controlling sugar cravings.

By Hilary Brueck

This story originally appeared on Fortune Magazine

jon.harol |

It's been known for decades that the liver helps to regulate sugar intake. But researchers have recently discovered the organ's secret weapon in the battle against sweets: a hormone called fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21).

Residing in the liver, FGF21 communicates with the brain when you've had enough sugar. According to the research revealed on Dec. 24, the hormone tells the brain to cut off the sweet tooth with a simple signal that says, "I'm full and satisfied—no more sugar, please."

This is the first time a single mechanism has been found in the liver that puts the brakes on cravings. The hormone simply "shuts off that reward pathway," says Matthew Potthoff, an assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Iowa and co-author of the study which will be published in the journal Cell Metabolism in February 2016.

Researchers figured out the effects of FGF21 by pumping up its levels in some of their lab mice. They found that the mice with extra FGF21 preferred a standard "mice chow' diet over a sugary one. But the mice with regular FGF21 levels couldn't resist the sugar kick when offered. Since the hormone has been proven to work the same way in humans, the researchers think this new finding could unlock drug therapies that can curb human addictions to sweets among other things.

The University of Iowa research is part of a growing field of research into how the body could better coach itself to eat better. And the sugar hormone may not be the only one that could help regulate how and what people are eating. Last year, a research team out of Imperial College London discovered it might be possible to create a "diet pill' to combat obesity by adding more fiber into the gut. Their initial trials were successful at stopping weight gain in overweight adults. Other new research out of Philadelphia's Monell Chemical Senses Center suggests some kids are genetically predisposed to sugar—they have a stronger "sweets signal' and could have stronger cravings for sweet foods, especially when they're restricted.

The next step, says Potthoff, is to determine if there are other similar hormones that regulate things like fat and protein intake. By testing the hormones on more of those pathways, there could be more therapies in store, not just for blocking people's food cravings, but also for targeting other health challenges like drug addiction and diabetes.

But it will likely be years before these findings become actual therapies. Luckily, blocking the sugar hormone isn't the only way to fight food cravings. Willpower will also help you slow down your holiday cookie tin binge.

Hilary Brueck has been a contributing writer to Fortune since 2015.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick


Are Your Business's Local Listings Accurate and Up-to-Date? Here Are the Consequences You Could Face If Not.

Why accurate local listings are crucial for business success — and how to avoid the pitfalls of outdated information.

Money & Finance

Day Traders Often Ignore This One Topic At Their Peril

Boring things — like taxes — can sometimes be highly profitable.


Want to Be More Productive Than Ever? Treat Your Personal Life Like a Work Project.

It pays to emphasize efficiency and efficacy when managing personal time.

Business News

'Passing By Wide Margins': Elon Musk Celebrates His 'Guaranteed Win' of the Highest Pay Package in U.S. Corporate History

Musk's Tesla pay package is almost 140 times higher than the annual pay of other high-performing CEOs.

Growing a Business

He Immigrated to the U.S. and Got a Job at McDonald's — Then His Aversion to Being 'Too Comfortable' Led to a Fast-Growing Company That's Hard to Miss

Voyo Popovic launched his moving and storage company in 2018 — and he's been innovating in the industry ever since.

Starting a Business

I Left the Corporate World to Start a Chicken Coop Business — Here Are 3 Valuable Lessons I Learned Along the Way

Board meetings were traded for barnyards as a thriving new venture hatched.