A tumor on the hypothalamus, when removed, can cause unimaginable permanent hunger in the patient leading to extreme obesity.
Their hunger is so intense that food must be locked up, and the patient often requires continuous supervision to ensure they don’t eat themselves to a point of extreme sickness.
How does the hunger of hypothalamic obesity differ from the hunger one experiences when on a very strict diet?
I asked this question to David Poulad, MD, a board certified neurosurgeon with IGEA Brain & Spine who practices in Union, NJ, whose special interests include the surgical treatment of brain tumors.
Dr. Poulad responds, “I don’t have much to offer here besides that disorders of the hypothalamus are extraordinarily rare. In addition, it would be almost impossible to try and overcome hypothalamic drive to eat.”
From time to time I’ve tried to find a patient with hypothalamic obesity to describe their hunger but have come up empty-handed.
One such tumor that leads to this condition is called a craniopharyngioma.
This benign mass, when up against the hypothalamus, results in damage to the hypothalamus when removed. This causes a disconnect between the stomach and the brain.
So even though the patient is eating plenty of food, they experience never-ending—and extreme—hunger.
This isn’t an issue of never feeling full. It’s an issue of always feeling starved.
Every healthy person experiences intense hunger. Ever hear someone say, “I’m so hungry I can eat a horse,” or, “I am starving!”?
For whatever reason, healthy people on occasion will miss a meal or two and experience deep hunger pangs.
Hypoglycemia, including that triggered by high glycemic foods like white rice, can trigger an agonizing hunger. Sometimes, people will overeat to neutralize this hunger.
In hypothalamic obesity, there’s no way to neutralize it; it’s always there.
However, when agonizing hunger strikes a healthy person, they are able to ignore it and continue working on those financial reports with the tight deadline or whatever it is they’re doing that’s kept them away from food.
So it stands to reason that the hunger of hypothalamic obesity and the hunger of healthy people who’ve been deprived of food all day or who have a bout of hypoglycemia are two different animals.