Tapping into our Sense of Smell to Combat Overeating

Fruit flies are probably the last thing you think of when you think of dieting and overcoming cravings, but scientists use these pesky creatures regularly to tap deeper into the mystery of human biological mechanisms.

smell_weightlossWhen you feel hungry or when your blood sugar is low, the body produces neuropeptides that enhance your reaction to food odors, tempting you to eat. Scientists are working with these neuropeptides in fruit flies to develop a solution to helping obese people from overeating and conversely, those who are underweight to eat more.

“Olfaction makes important contributions to the perception of food quality and profoundly influences our dietary choices,” said Jing Wang, head researcher at the University of California, San Diego.

This research hopes to develop drugs that will bypass insulin in regulating hunger and satiety levels by tapping into these neuropeptides.

“Our studies in Drosophila address an important question – how starvation modulates olfactory processing. We were surprised to find that starvation modulation of smell happens at the periphery, because most of the literature on feeding regulations is about the function of the hypothalamus. There are hints to suggest that this kind of starvation modulation in the peripheral olfactory system is present in vertebrate systems as well.”

This study looks at the relationship between insulin sensitivity and our sense of smell when it comes to hunger and satiety. When insulin levels are low and the body is in a starved state, the olfactory senses kick into high gear in an attempt to seek out food.

“The notion that starvation modulation at the peripheral olfactory system is linked to insulin signaling has potential implications for the therapeutic intervention of the seemingly unstoppable obesity epidemic trend in a large percentage of the population. Learning how olfactory neural circuits impact dietary choices is relevant towards better understanding factors that contribute to obesity and eating disorders.”

Plans to create this new drug are already underway.


University of California – San Diego. “Fruit fly’s response to starvation could help control human appetites.” ScienceDaily 31 Mar. 2011. Web. 8 Apr. 2011.



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