How Hormones Regulate Your Digestive System

Did you know that hormones play an important role in the digestive system?

Here are the key hormones and their roles in digestion, and what you can do to help these hormones do their job: To keep your system running smoothly.

Once food enters your stomach, hormones help break down the food. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the main hormones that control digestion are gastrin, secretin, and cholecystokinin (CCK).

They are produced and released by cells in the mucus linings of the stomach and small intestine. Their job is to stimulate digestive juices and cause organ movement.

Gastrin produces an acid, which helps the stomach dissolve and digest food.

Secretin helps the pancreas release digestive juices that neutralize stomach acid. It also stimulates the stomach to produce pepsin, an enzyme that digests protein, and stimulates the liver to produce bile.

CCK prompts the production of pancreatic enzymes and causes the gallbladder to empty.

Hormones That Regulate Appetite

Though they're not the only hormones that play a role in food intake, the two main hormones are grehlin and peptide YY.

Grehlin—produced in the stomach and upper intestine—stimulates appetite. Its levels increase when there is no food in the stomach.

Peptide YY, produced in the digestive tract, increases when there is food in the stomach. It inhibits appetite.

How to Control Your Hunger Hormones

Eat more often.

Peptide YY is secreted when there's food in your belly, so it's smart to eat every three to four hours. One caveat: you need to eat smaller meals.

Eat more protein.

Protein, as well as fiber, suppresses ghrelin levels by providing a feeling of fullness, or satiety. Low-calorie foods that provide a lot of volume (think soup and salad) also have a similar effect.

Eat less saturated fat.

Healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil, nuts, and salmon, help curb appetite. Saturated fats, however, have been shown to block these signals of fullness to the brain.

Manage stress and depression.

A mouse study at UT Southwestern Medical Center found that chronic stress increases ghrelin levels, which may lead to overeating and increased body weight.

Make time for exercise.

A British study concluded that aerobic exercise caused ghrelin levels to drop and appetite-suppressing peptide YY levels to increase. Strength training helped lower ghrelin levels, but there was no significant change to peptide YY.

Get enough sleep.

A small study at the University of Chicago found a link between sleep deprivation and an increase in ghrelin levels.




National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Your Digestion System and How it Works. Web, 2008.

Press release. Hunger hormone increases during stress, mayhave antidepressant effect, researchers report. UT Southwestern Medical Center. June 2008.

David R. Broom, Rachel L. Batterham, James A. King, and David J. Stensel. Influence of resistance and aerobic exercise on hunger, circulating levels of acylated ghrelin, and peptide YY in health meals. Ameican Journal of Physiology. November 2008.