Ghrelin regulates homeostatic food intake, hedonic eating, and is a mediator in the stress response. In addition, ghrelin has metabolic, cardiovascular, and anti-aging effects. This cross-sectional study examined associations between total plasma ghrelin, caloric intake based on 3day diet diaries, hedonic eating attitudes, stress-related and metabolic factors, and leukocyte telomere length in overweight (n=25) and obese women (n=22). We hypothesized associations between total plasma ghrelin and eating behaviors, stress, metabolic, cardiovascular, and cell aging factors among overweight women, but not among obese women due to lower circulating ghrelin levels and/or central resistance to ghrelin. Confirming previous studies demonstrating lowered plasma ghrelin in obesity, ghrelin levels were lower in the obese compared with overweight women. Among the overweight, ghrelin was positively correlated with caloric intake, giving in to cravings for highly palatable foods, and a flatter diurnal cortisol slope across 3days. These relationships were non-significant among the obese group. Among overweight women, ghrelin was negatively correlated with insulin resistance, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate, and positively correlated with telomere length. Among the obese subjects, plasma ghrelin concentrations were negatively correlated with insulin resistance, but were not significantly correlated with blood pressure, heart rate or telomere length. Total plasma ghrelin and its associations with food intake, hedonic eating, and stress are decreased in obesity, providing evidence consistent with the theory that central resistance to ghrelin develops in obesity and ghrelin's function in appetite regulation may have evolved to prevent starvation in food scarcity rather than cope with modern food excess. Furthermore, ghrelin is associated with metabolic and cardiovascular health, and may have anti-aging effects, but these effects may be attenuated in obesity.
Keywords: Hedonic eating; Leukocyte telomere length; Metabolic factors; Stress; Total plasma ghrelin.
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