Alcohol consumption has been shown to sensitize the brain’s response to food aromas and increase caloric intake among women, also known as the “aperitif effect.” The study results have been published in the journal Obesity.

William J. A. Eiler II, PhD, of the Indiana University School of Medicine, and colleagues recruited 35 non-vegetarian, non-smoking, non-obese women for the study in which the participants received alcohol via intravenous administration during one session and saline in the other. Brain responses to food and non-food aromas were measured using blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) response via fMRI scans; afterwards, the participants ate a late lunch.

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When the participants received intravenous alcohol, they generally consumed more food at lunch on average compared to placebo; however, one-third of participants did eat less after alcohol exposure. A greater response to food odors was seen in the hypothalamus after alcohol infusion compared to non-food odors, leading the researchers to believe that the hypothalamus could be associated with mediating the impact of alcohol exposure on our sensitivity to food cues. Additional research is needed to investigate the mechanism by which the hypothalamus affects food reward.

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