CLINICAL STUDY: Alcohol administration acutely inhibits ghrelin secretion in an experiment involving psychosocial stress


Ulrich S. Zimmermann, Department of Addictive Behavior and Addiction Medicine, Central Institute of Mental Health, J 5, Mannheim, Germany. E-mail:


The appetite-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin are altered in alcoholism and influence the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system. We investigated whether acute ethanol ingestion and stress exposure affect ghrelin secretion. Nine healthy male volunteers were exposed to a standardized laboratory stressor involving public speaking on 2 days. On the first day they ingested 0.6 g/kg ethanol and on the second a placebo drink 50 minutes before the stressor. Plasma ghrelin, cortisol, glucose, and insulin were measured at baseline and in eight subsequent samples obtained up to 120 minutes after drinking (75 minutes after stress onset). The stress test induced a transient and significant rise in cortisol, which was not altered by prior alcohol administration. No significant change of ghrelin, insulin or glucose levels was observed after the stressor. Ghrelin declined significantly within 15 minutes after alcohol drinking, fell to a minimum of 66% of baseline at 75 minutes and remained at that level until the last sample at 120 minutes. No significant ghrelin changes were observed during placebo experiments. Insulin and glucose were not significantly influenced by stress or by alcohol. We conclude that alcohol drinking acutely attenuates circulating ghrelin levels. This effect is more pronounced than would be expected from the calories ingested with alcohol, as compared with a prior report where liquid meals of different caloric content were administered. We could not observe a stress effect on ghrelin, which does not support a role for ghrelin in stress-induced anorexia.