Monthly Archives: February 2012

Why Emotions Trigger Food Cravings


The old saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” implies there is a deep connection between emotions and eating. My guess is  no one is really surprised by this idea. Both men and woman can identify ways in which their mood and appetite are intertwined and it is no mere quirk of man’s personality that this is true.

Evolution tells us that we were born to eat. The earliest creatures in the world’s history were simple eating machines. Their bodies consisted of an entrance for food, a digestive tract and an exit for refuse. In order to become more efficient at getting food creatures developed a system to locate food and to move toward it. This system is known as a nervous system. The first creature to have this ability is the worm. Eventually the nervous system controlling the digestive system (enteric nervous system) began to sprout nodes which were early brains.  As time went on and the brain became better developed it split off from the nervous system that controlled the digestive tract. Everything that followed in evolution, has served the purpose of developing  increasingly efficient brains (central nervous system) for acquiring the fuel of life.

Another example of how deeply connected the gut and brain are, is to look at the development of the fetus. When a human fetus is still just a lump of jelly, the digestive  and nervous systems are one structure. Soon this organ splits into two, one to become our gastrointestinal tract and the other the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Even though they become physically separated the chemical signals used by the gut and nervous system remain virtually identical. These chemicals comprise the groups known as neurotransmitters and hormones.

The same chemicals in the digestive tract that cause the intestines to twist and convulse (peristalsis), in the brain stimulate the emotion of anxiety. This explains why people get “butterflies” in the stomach or diarrhea when they are nervous.  The brain chemicals involved in depression can cause constipation.  The syndrome of irritable bowel disease (IBS) with its cycles of diarrhea and constipation is thought to be a reflection of an emotional rollercoaster.  The chemical relationship between mood and appetite is even more complex but no less real. One of the most common side effect of mood altering drugs is increased appetite and weight gain. Just ask anyone who has been on an anti-depressant drug such as Prozac, Zoloft or Abilify.  The chemical in marihuana that gets people high is famous for triggering the eating binge called “the munchies”.

Appetite suppressant drugs often have effects on mood and can be the source of major side effects. One new generation of appetite suppressants being developed, Acomplia, failed to be approved by the FDA because it caused severe depression and suicidal thinking.

In the next part of this series we will look at ways we can influence the brain to control our appetite.

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Mom Told You Fish is Brain Food. She Was Right.


Recent information from a 20 year study confirms what Mom told you about fish being good for the brain .  Using MRI studies of the brain researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that the size of certain brain regions crucial to intelligence were bigger in those who ate baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis.  In Alzheimer’s Disease these same areas shrink as the disease progresses.  Intelligence and memory testing by the researchers confirmed that having more brain volume in these areas correlated with better brain function. For fish eaters the rate of progressing to Alzheimer’s disease during this study was only 8% while non-fish eaters went on to Alzheimer’s  38% of the time. The researchers concluded that the benefit of fish eating probably results from the protective effect of omega-3 fatty acids on the brain. Omega-3 fatty acid contains high concentrations of EPA as well as another benefical nutrient DHA.

Fish oil is known to have other benefits as well, such as reducing certain fats in the blood, particularly triglycerides. In another recently released study those with high triglycerides taking 1.8 grams of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) for twelve weeks showed a 22% reduction in triglyceride levels . The EPA in this study was derived from the omega-3-fatty acids in fish oil. The researchers point out that there is still limited proof that lowering triglycerides leads to a reduction in heart attack risk, although reducing irregular heart beat after heart attack may be reduced by consuming nutrients such as EPA.

For more helpful information on nutrition and health check out my new book, Metabolism.com

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Should You be Concerned About Your Cortisol Level and What Can You Do About it?


Many members at metabolism.com have expressed concern that their cortisol level is either too high or too low. I thought it would be helpful to highlight the latest exchange I  had on the subject.

Mohammed writes:

Hello:   My overall dhea and cortisol levels are ok but cortisol is a little high what can i take to stabilise the level of cortisol, i know reducing stress and exercise e.t.c but i mean in terms of products is there anything that can balance cortisol, because i am suffering from low t3 and i know without good adrenal fnx
thyroid supplemts wont be as effective

My reply:

As you know the adrenal gland produces a hormone that is vital to survival known as cortisol, cortisone, or glucocorticoid. You are correct that during stress the adrenal will produce more cortisol which helps prepare the body for aggressive activity or injury. When the stress is relieved cortisol levels return to normal. Excess of cortisol causes a disorder known as Cushing’s Syndrome and a deficiency is called Addison’s Disease or adrenal insufficiency. Both of these disorders can cause illnesses serious enough to result in death. Fortunately cortisol excess or insufficiency is very rare and when diagnosed in time can be controlled. Several years ago there was an unethical company marketing a product called Cortislim which they claimed reduced cortisol levels to induce healthy weight loss. This product was removed from the market. As far as I’m concerned there is no legitimate product that will safely reduce cortisol levels, nor should there be. The body regulates production of cortisol very carefully because it is such a potent hormone with potential to help and harm in major ways. I believe you would be safer letting your body decide what your cortisol level should be rather than trying to do it yourself. You can check out another of my blogs on the subject of adrenal function. My book Metabolism.com includes a section where I review the controversy about adrenal fatigue as well.

Hope this information helps.

Thanks

Dr. P

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