It’s 10 pm and you are stressed. All of the sudden your stomach starts churning and you remember that half eaten carton of Ben and Jerry’s left in your freezer. Before you know it the ice cream is gone and you are left hoping that it will settle the butterflies in your stomach. We have all had that feeling, but then the question arises. What makes us have that “gut feeling”? Why are our stomachs controlling our emotions, and therefore controlling our eating patterns?
Your gut can work independently without any input from your brain, unlike any other organ in the human body. This is how the stomach got its name of “the second brain”. The stomach is controlled by the enteric nervous system (ENS) which is made up of 100 million neurons. The ENS is used to control the movement and absorption of food through the intestines. The stomach has the ability to send signals to the brain that can affect certain feelings, such as sadness or stress, as well as influence memory, learning, and decision-making. The stomach relies on 30 neurotransmitters in order to function that are identical to those in the brain. The ENS communicates with the central nervous system (CNS) through the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, but does not rely on it in order to function. Studies have shown that the ENS continues to function, even after the vagus nerve, which connects the CNS to the ENS, has been severed.
Different foods can affect emotions differently. Specific components of food can influence neurohormones in the gut that are responsible for signaling the brain. What a person eats affects their mood. Fatty acids reduce feelings of sadness and hunger. This is why most people in times of stress and sadness will turn to the help of “comfort foods” to help them feel better. Ghrelin, a hormone manufactured by the gut, stimulates hunger in the brain and is one of the neurochemicals that sends messages back and forth between the ENS and CNS in order to affect mood. Every time a meal is consumed ghrelin levels fall, and then continue to rise again until the next meal. Obese people tend to have higher levels of ghrelin even after eating, which can leave them feeling hungry more often. High-fat foods stimulate dopamine production and can enhance mood/euphoria, thus encouraging the brain and stomach to seek out more high fat food.
During gastric bypass surgery, the part of the stomach which produces the most ghrelin is isolated in order to make the patient less hungry. The doctor then attaches the stomach to a section of the small intestine called the ileum which produces PPY, a hormone that makes you feel full. PPY typically takes 20 minutes to send the message to the brain to let it know that the stomach is full. Making these two sections of the stomach closer together allows the brain to receive the signal quicker in order to encourage the body to eat less.
Surgery is an expensive and drastic solution to fighting a problem such as obesity. People try to diet, which if done safely and combined with exercise can be effective. One important thing to note is that people dieting will also have increased levels of grehlin, increasing hunger levels. This is one reason why people find dieting to be so difficult. Food affects mood due and increased cravings caused by certain hormones can be difficult to control. Perhaps this is why your co-worker who is on a 3-day juice cleanse is in such a sour mood.
If exercise and dietary changes fail to make a dent in hunger, weight and BMI then a more targeted approach can help people interested in managing appetite and controlling food intake. Medical foods is certainly one option that should be explored. As a safe and effective class of medications medical foods deliver the specific neurotransmitter precursors required by nervous system to help reduce appetite and promote early satiety. As stated earlier, your stomach uses neurotransmitters just as the brain does. Using these neurotransmitters help your stomach become more satisfied and helps manage your mood and cravings, helping you manage appetite safely and effectively. Clinical trials show that a medical food as an adjunct to a weight loss diet and exercise plan can help increase weight loss and decrease BMI.
Ten Foods that May Help Curb Appetite:
- Avocados – Composed of monounsaturated fats, which take longer to digest, avocados help suppress ghrelin production and appetite. The soluble fiber in avocados slow digestion by forming a thick gel as it travels throughout the gut.
- Greek Yogurt – A high-protein appetite buster. Since it is thick, you feel fuller faster.
- Legumes – High in soluble fiber, resistant starch, and oligosaccharides. These complex carbs help slow digestion.
- Cottage Cheese – A good source of protein which helps suppress appetite.
- Oatmeal – Contains beta-glucans, a soluble fiber, that helps it travel slowly through the digestive track.
- Nuts – Nuts contain healthy fats and fiber which help you digest more slowly.
- Fruit – high in fiber, which helps to slow digestion and keep you feeling full longer.
- Wasabi – suppresses appetite and also contains anti-inflammatory qualities.
- Salmon – Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which helps the body increase leptin, a hormone used for suppressing hunger.
- Cinnamon – Cinnamon helps lower blood sugar which helps control appetite.