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November 17, 2011

Protein - a key to keep alert & thin!

LONDON: In a finding that could 've bearing on obesity & sleep disorders, researchers say it's protein, not sugar, that stimulates cells keeping us awake & thin by burning calories. According to researchers from University of Cambridge, wakefulness & energy expenditure rely on "orexin cells," which secrete a stimulant called orexin/hypocretin in the brain.
Reduced activity in these unique cells results in narcolepsy, uncontrollable desire for sleep or its sudden onset & has been linked to weight gain, the journal Neuron reports, citing a varsity statement. Cambridge scientists compared actions of different nutrients on orexin cells & found out that amino acids, nutrients found in proteins such as egg whites -stimulate orexin neurons much more than nutrients. 

Denis Burdakov, pharmacology researcher at the Cambridge Institute of Metabolic Science said that "Sleep patterns, health & body weight are intertwined. Shift work, as well as poor diet, can lead to obesity. Electrical impulses emitted by orexin cells stimulate wakefulness & tell the body to burn calories. We wondered whether dietary nutrients alter those impulses." 

Scientists highlighted the orexin cells (which are scarce & difficult to find) with genetically targeted fluorescence in mouse brains. They then introduced different nutrients, such as amino acid mixtures similar to egg whites, while tracking orexin cell impulses. 

Researchers discovered that amino acids stimulate orexin cells. Previous work by the group found that glucose (a sugar) blocks orexin cells (which was cited as a reason for after-meal sleepiness). So researchers also looked at interactions between sugar & protein. they found that amino acids stop glucose from blocking orexin cells, or in other words, protein negates the effects of sugar on the cells. 

Burdakov also said "What is exciting is to 've a rational way to 'tune' select brain cells to be more or less active by deciding what food to eat. Not all brain cells are simply turned on by all nutrients, dietary composition is critical." These findings may shed light on previously unexplained observations showing that protein meals can make people feel less calm & more alert than carbohydrate meals. 

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