Lactate, a molecule originally considered metabolic waste, is now associated with a number of important physiological functions. Although the roles of lactate as a signaling molecule, fuel source, and gluconeogenic substrate have garnered significant attention in recent reviews, a relatively underexplored and emerging role of lactate is its control of energy intake (EI). To expand our understanding of the physiological roles of lactate, we present evidence from early infusion studies demonstrating the ability of lactate to suppress EI in both rodents and humans. We then discuss findings from recent human studies that have utilized exercise intensity and/or sodium bicarbonate supplementation to modulate endogenous lactate and examine its impact on appetite regulation. These studies consistently demonstrate that greater blood lactate accumulation is associated with greater suppression of the hunger hormone ghrelin and subjective appetite, thereby supporting a role of lactate in the control of EI. To stimulate future research investigating the role of lactate as an appetite-regulatory molecule, we also highlight potential underlying mechanisms explaining the appetite-suppressive effects of lactate using evidence from rodent and in vitro cellular models. Specifically, we discuss the ability of lactate to 1) inhibit the secretory function of ghrelin producing gastric cells, 2) modulate the signaling cascades that control hypothalamic neuropeptide expression/release, and 3) inhibit signaling through the ghrelin receptor in the hypothalamus. Unravelling the role of lactate as an appetite-regulatory molecule can shed important insight into the regulation of EI, thereby contributing to the development of interventions aimed at combatting overweight and obesity.
Keywords: appetite regulation; energy intake; ghrelin; hunger.