Egg proteins can help consumers stay awake and alert during the working day, says a study from Cambridge University in the UK published in the journal Neuron. The study suggests that a cellular mechanism may allow brain cells to translate different diets into different patterns of activity.

The research focused on specialized brain cells called orexin-hypocretin neurons. Wakefulness and energy rely on signals transmitted by these cells. Reduced orexin-hypocretin activity results in narcolepsy – a disorder marked by the sudden onset of sleep. The Cambridge team found that protein components of the type found in eggs whites stimulated the neurons much more than other nutrients. The amino acids appeared to stop glucose from blocking the cells.

“We found that activity in the orexin/hypocretin system is regulated by macronutrient balance rather than simply by the caloric content of the diet, suggesting that the brain contains not only energy-sensing cells but also cells that can measure dietary balance,” concluded senior study author Dr. Denis Burdakov.


“Our data support the idea that the orexin/hypocretin neurons are under a ‘push-pull’ control by sugars and proteins. Interestingly, although behavior effects are beyond the scope of our study, this cellular model is consistent with reports that when compared with sugar-rich meals, protein-rich meals are more effective at promoting wakefulness and arousal.”

“This study provides yet more proof that eggs are a superfood,” said Dr. Carrie Ruxton, a British Egg Information Service nutritionist. “As well as being rich in vitamins, minerals and protein, eggs make us feel fuller for longer after meals, thus helping with weight control.”