It’s All In Your Head? Well, Not Really.
Have you ever had a ‘gut feeling’ before? Have you ever wondered why, when you get depressed and anxious, you crave junk food or have a pain in you gut? Is it all in your head?
Dan Hurley wrote an article in Psychology Today that investigates the connection between the brain and the gut, or what many term as the ‘second brain’. According to Michael Gerson, professor and chair of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University, “The gut can work independently of any control by the brain in your head – it’s functioning as a second brain. It’s another independent center of integrative neural activity.” (published on November 01, 2011)
The gut’s brain, technically known as the enteric nervous system (ENS) has 100 million neurons, which is more than in the spinal chord but fewer than in the brain. The ENS can work completely on its own to control movement and absorption of food throughout the intestines – without ANY input from the brain. No other organ in the body can work independently from the brain. 
So if that is the case, how can it possibly affect our mood? Well, remember that it also sends signals to the brain that directly affects our mood centers – making us feel happy or sad, stressed or depressed. The ENS even sends signals to our brain that influence memory, learning, and decision-making. So if you have ever made a decision and then instantly felt almost sick about it – your gut just sent a message to your brain and perhaps you better re-think that decision!
So let’s back up a bit….your ENS sends signals to the brain that directly affect your moods and thinking. What determines what kind of messages it sends? Well, this is where it gets really intriguing! FOOD…yes, the kinds of food you eat determine the messages sent to the brain and ultimately the moods, emotions, and thinking you have.
How do we know this?
Until recently it was thought that just simply the sight of certain ‘comfort’ foods like chocolate and macaroni and cheese or remembering your Mom’s cooking provided the emotional experience that occurred. But according to the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Belgian researchers have found that it’s the specific components of those foods that exert a direct effect on neurohormones in the gut that then signal the brain.
Take a closer look at the study they did:
Belgian researchers enlisted healthy, normal-weight human volunteers who agreed to bypass all the pleasurable aspects of eating by having a nasogastric tube deliver nutrients directly to their stomach—while they underwent brain scanning. Through the tube, volunteers received either an ordinary saline solution or an infusion of fatty acids. At the same time, they listened either to neutral music or to melancholy music proven to induce sad feelings, or they were shown pictures of sad or neutral faces.The researchers regard the findings as prime proof that the brain processing of bodily signals regulates emotions. With apologies to Mom’s cooking, not to mention McDonald’s, fat, all by itself, in the absence of any pleasant associations or free toys, has the power to lift our emotional state. Based on feelings subjects reported and on brain images the investigators observed, the fatty acids reduced both sad feelings and sensations of hunger by about half, compared with the saline. Within minutes after the fatty acids hit the stomach, MRI scans showed that brain regions known to moderate emotions were activated, with higher levels of blood flow in the brain stem and most of the emotional parts of the brain, the limbic system. The researchers recently reported Fatty-acid infusion attenuated both the behavioral and neural responses to sad emotion induction. 
This clearly demonstrates that no matter what you put in your stomach – whether fat or plain salt water – it will have a direct effect on your mood. And this also demonstrates that your body needs healthy fats – to literally make you happier.
So, now you are probably thinking, “If I need to eat fat to maintain a happier mood, how do I do this and keep from getting fat?” We will teach you that in an upcoming newsletter.
These articles bring up some important points. First there is a direct correlation between your GI and Brain. Second, what we put in our mouth can have a direct effect on our mood, attitude, and even motivation.
So, the big question we need to be asking is: ‘How do we know if the food we are eating is good for our GI, or not?’
Well, as doctors we know that each person has a unique biochemistry and needs to be tested properly to determine which foods will result in a positive GI response or a damaging one. Please take note that what I am saying here is that if you are experiencing mood disorders, depression and other mental issues, it could actually be a direct result of what you are EATING, and foods that are typically healthy in general may instead be harming you. This is where my motto comes to play…
We Don’t Guess, We Test!
One of the simplest tests to determine whether or not certain foods are actually damaging your GI is a Food Sensitivity Test. Don’t confuse this test with a RAST test – This is a simple blood test, and a laboratory such as Immuno Labs has been known to do a very thorough presentation of results. Click example below.
One thing you may notice when you look at this test is that the foods that are listed are not commonly thought of as ‘unhealthy’. In fact, many people often look at the test for the first time and say, “Doc, those foods are generally good for me…I thought by eating them I was actually healthier?”
What they are not understanding is that a food that you are sensitive to can cause inflammation in the Gut, resulting in abnormal biochemical reactions that affect the brain. Now some of you may be thinking – don’t most allergic reactions look like hives or some other anaphylactic response? Actually, inflammation in the gut can result in symptoms such as headaches, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, or even brain fog. So many people experience these things on a daily basis and don’t realize that they don’t have to feel that way…some sensitivities can be reversed.
“But doc, how did this happen?”
One of the most common starts to all these sensitivities is antibiotic use as a child.  That is why it is very important to restore your normal gut flora with fermented foods and drinks.  Another great way to help heal the gut faster is with a product called MegaBiotic, an allergen-free, therapy dose of over 100+ billion CFU’s of beneficial bacteria, which is different from just a standard probiotic.
I always say that you can’t beat yourself up about the past, but once you know better – you can do better. If you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or other mood disorder, please take the time to get a Food Sensitivity Test done. You never know – it could actually be a gut issue and not a brain issue. But, you’ll never know until you get tested.
Once you’ve been tested, your doctor will be able to determine the best care for your specific needs.
- Grenham, S., et al., Brain-gut-microbe communication in health and disease. Front Physiol, 2011. 2: p. 94.
- Van Oudenhove, L., et al., Fatty acid-induced gut-brain signaling attenuates neural and behavioral effects of sad emotion in humans. J Clin Invest, 2011. 121(8): p. 3094-9.
- Girardin, M. and E.G. Seidman, Indications for the use of probiotics in gastrointestinal diseases. Dig Dis, 2011. 29(6): p. 574-87.
- Risnes, K.R., et al., Antibiotic Exposure by 6 Months and Asthma and Allergy at 6 Years: Findings in a Cohort of 1,401 US Children. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2011. 173(3): p. 310-318.
- Iacono, A., et al., Probiotics as an emerging therapeutic strategy to treat NAFLD: focus on molecular and biochemical mechanisms. J Nutr Biochem, 2011. 22(8): p. 699-711.