What does your gut say?

IMG_0216by Lisa M. Pearl, MS,RD,LDN

Everyone within earshot has been listening to me talk about neurobiology lately.  With the increased utilization of brain mapping, research has been exploding with fascinating information about our neural circuitry. And with new information comes hope for better treatment for all kinds of physical, emotional, and mental health issues. One dilemma that I hope will be better understood in the near future is the relationship between eating and emotional states. For example, many people with mood or eating issues are prescribed SSRI medication like Prosac or Zoloft. These medications are used to increase the level of serotonin in neural synapses. Serotonin is a wonderful neurotransmitter that helps us to relax, de-stress, reduce anxiety, and even help us to sleep. Who wouldn’t want more of it??

In a balanced life, dietary carbohydrate is part of the mechanism that allows for increased serotonin production. And as many folks with binge eating discover, eating carbohydrates in excess can initially elevate mood and decrease anxiety. So if taking an SSRI medication and eating carbs both increase the serotonin in our synapses why don’t SSRI meds have more of an impact with binge eating disorder? What are the other variables that affect mood?

I have always thought of neurotransmitters, like serotonin, as sitting in the chemical command chair of the brain issuing orders on how I should feel. And yet when I really spend some time listening to my emotions I find them in body sensations. I don’t really feel too much emotion inside my skull, just a lot of words, stories, and images. Neurotransmitters are created in the brain but they affect our emotional body by passing the neurotransmitter from one neuron to the next across receptor sites throughout the body.

So one of the new tidbits I’ve been sharing lately is that only 5% of serotonin receptor sites are located in the cortex of the brain and 95% of them are located in your gut! And serotonin is involved with at least 13 other types of neural pathways beyond what an SSRI can effect. Thirteen other pathways have yet to be mapped, and that is for just one of many neurotransmitters! Our gut is now commonly referred to as the “second brain” which makes sense since we “listen to our gut” or have a “gut sense” about things. Research will continue to reveal the surprising connections between our gut and our mood, appetite, and health.

At CNC, we continue to believe that reconnecting to and honoring our bodies with self-care is the path to recovery. We understand that each person has a different journey to achieve their optimal health and that embracing a mind-body connection is part of the healing process. One of the tools we teach our clients is diaphragmatic breathing. The type of deep breathing yogis have been practicing for centuries to create a center of calm and wellbeing. Although the science hasn’t completely caught up with us yet, I’ll bet this simple act of inhaling slowly to expand your belly and exhaling completely is hitting some of those neural pathways yet to be mapped.