Hunger Affects the Pleasure of “Soft Caresses,” Researchers Discover

Ghrelin: The Surprising Influence on Pleasure

When it comes to setting the mood for intimacy, lighting candles and playing soothing jazz may be common strategies.

However, a recent study suggests there’s another crucial factor to consider before heading to the bedroom – having a meal.

Researchers from the University of Oslo have unveiled an intriguing finding: “soft caresses” feel less pleasurable when you’re hungry. This curious effect is attributed to a hormone known as ‘ghrelin,’ often referred to as the ‘hunger hormone.’

The Dual Role of Ghrelin

Ghrelin is a hormone primarily produced by cells in the stomach, with minor releases from the small intestine, pancreas, and brain. Traditionally known for stimulating appetite, increasing food consumption, and promoting fat storage, ghrelin’s influence goes beyond food. It plays a role in valuing social rewards, including touch.

The researchers emphasize its connection to various types of rewards, such as increased alcohol consumption in mice and heightened motivation to self-administer heroin in rats.

Exploring the Impact of Ghrelin on Pleasure

To delve into the effects of ghrelin on the pleasantness of touch, researchers conducted a study involving sixty participants.

On separate days, participants fasted from morning until their arrival at the laboratory, where they underwent tests.

On the ‘food’ day, they were provided with a liquid meal and a banana, while on the ‘fasting’ day, they remained without food.

Measuring Touch Perception

Participants had their right shin brushed at different speeds while their brain activity was monitored using an fMRI scanner.

They were asked to assess the intensity and pleasantness of the touch. Blood tests confirmed the variation in ghrelin levels – decreased after eating on the ‘food’ day and remained high on the ‘fasting’ day.

The Surprising Result

The study’s results revealed a slight but noteworthy effect: participants rated the touches as somewhat more pleasant on ‘food’ days compared to ‘fasting’ days. While this effect was relatively small, it has broader implications.

For instance, it suggests that touch experiences sought for well-being, such as a relaxing massage, may have a more positive impact after a meal than on an empty stomach.

Additionally, the reduced pleasantness of non-food rewards could contribute to the challenges of adhering to a weight-loss diet.