Natural News magazine reports that researchers have found a second organ in the human body that acts like a brain. While some may be tempted to let fly a gaggle of well-worn clichés about men and thinking, move a little higher, to the gut.
Speaking of cliches, we’ve all heard the expression “I have a gut feeling.” So it turns out high-fat intake sparks a gastrointestinal nervous system reaction that helps to improve one’s emotional balance. Before anyone rolls out a theory in support of beer bellies, just any old fat won’t do. Researchers at Columbia University say specific fatty acids are the key to a “bright and stable frame of mind.” It seems the gut doesn’t just digest food that regulates our emotional state of being. The specialized field of study which uncovered this second brain that exists with parity in men and women is called neurogastroenterology. Current studies suggest fatty acids interact within the gastrointestinal tract to influence mood and emotional health.
Michael Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University, says, “”The gut can work independently of any control by the brain in your head – it’s functioning as a second brain.” While a sample from any overeaters anonymous meeting would likely confirm the gut-as-second-brain analysis without need for medical research, Gershon explains that through a network of 100 million neurons in the gut called the enteric nervous system (ENS), over 30 neurotransmitters are produced that are identical to those found in the brain — one of which is serotonin. Incredibly, 90 percent of all serotonin is located in the gut. Remember, serotonin is an important feel-good hormone that regulates sleep, appetite and mood. Gershon continues, “Tinkering with the second brain in our gut has lately been shown to be a potent tool for achieving relief from major depression.”
Starting to make sense? It sounds like the urge to eat one’s way through the quagmire of a broken relationship is not all in the mind, at least not the one we are accustomed to blaming for eating an entire box of chocolates in one sitting. Having read this far one may feel free to, with an expression of innocence, assign guilt for chocolate binges directly to the gut. Unfortunately, Gershon’s theory does not advise overconsumption of chocolate or beer; wrong fatty acids. Research shows the “happier, more positive food choices to be omega-3 rich foods like salmon and other cold water fish, walnuts, flax and chia seeds. Still, it’s not hard to imagine reading the last sentence was within itself a buzz kill to many.
A study in Belgium was among those confirming Gershon’s theory. Researchers there inserted a nasogastric tube into the stomach of healthy volunteers to bypass the pleasures of eating. Using IVs the subjects were given either a saline or fatty acid solution and simultaneously exposed to melancholic or neutral music along with sad or innocuous images. Turns out participant’s feelings matched up with MRI brain scans showing that those who received the fatty acid infusion reported about half the sadness experienced by the Saline group.
Studies indicate saturated fat from animal products like dairy, red meat and pork tend to cloud the brain, provoke aggression and trigger depression. Trans fats, which are found in foods like margarine, shortening and many fast foods, are another mood killer. A happier, more positive choice would be omega-3 rich foods like salmon and other cold water fish, walnuts, flax and chia seeds. These fatty acids ‘feed’ the gut and emotions in a constructive way — helping to nourish bright and balanced moods by directly affecting the enteric nervous system’s production of serotonin.