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The smell and sight of a meal stimulate specific immune cells in the brain known as the microglia
Even before carbohydrates reach the bloodstream, the very sight and smell of a meal trigger the release of insulin. For the first time, researchers from the University of Basel and University Hospital Basel, Switzerland have shown that this insulin release depends on a short-term inflammatory response that takes place in these circumstances. In overweight individuals, however, this inflammatory response is so excessive that it can impair insulin secretion.
Even the anticipation of a forthcoming meal triggers a series of responses in the body, perhaps the most familiar of which is the watering of the mouth. But the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar, also arrives on the scene even before we tuck into the first mouthful of food. Experts refer to this as the neurally mediated (or cephalic) phase of insulin secretion.
In the past, however, it was unclear how the sensory perception of a meal generated a signal to the pancreas to ramp up insulin production. Now, researchers have identified an important piece of the puzzle: an inflammatory factor known as interleukin 1 beta (IL1B), which is also involved in the immune response to pathogens or in tissue damage.
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