In the year following her CHIP attendance, Angie lost over 100 pounds. Recently, Angie shared her story with the current CHIP class. Gasps were heard around the room as she told of her weight loss journey. She was flooded with questions like, “What do you eat?” Do you ever eat…?” Was she able to include greatly beloved foods in her weight loss journey? Inherent in their questions was the hope that perhaps there is a way to achieve health goals while still enjoying food.
Food is more than nutrition, more than building blocks that support bodily functions, more than a source of fuel with which we produce energy. It is information that the digestive system processes and relays to the nervous system and brain. Food can make us feel good or bad, and it accomplishes this in various ways.
The foods we typically have great difficulty relinquishing are more than likely the foods we use to feel calm, give ourselves a lift, or provide a sense of reward and heightened pleasure. We know that food is capable of lighting up reward centers in the brain, in similar ways as that of alcohol and recreational drugs, such as cocaine. For one woman, her drug of choice was seven candy bars a day. These kept her going emotionally. One man lived for his nightly bowl of ice cream. For another, it might be fatty, salty foods. Unhealthy foods provide an almost instant relief for many. But their exhilarating effects are short-lived. We might feel down an hour later, irritated at ourselves for overeating, or feel heaviness in our gut. While comfort foods provide a lift, they are simultaneously tearing down our health and happiness.
One of the ways food can affect our happiness is through its effect on our gut. Trillions of microbes in the gut are in constant communication with the brain, affecting one physically and emotionally. Most of this microbial world exists in a thin layer of mucus lining the gut. In this location, they are next-door neighbors to the body’s second brain: the hundreds of millions of nerve cells located in the intestinal wall. The receptors and sensors of the neurons behave something like someone eavesdropping on conversations in the adjacent room. These conversations are then recorded and relayed to headquarters. Some researchers believe these microbes and neurons do more than communicate with each other. It’s thought by some that the microbes understand human speech and produce the same hormones and neurotransmitters used in our body’s biological talk to communicate directly with the brain.
The communication is bidirectional. If the brain is stressed, this is communicated to the gut microbes, which causes them to behave and secrete differently. Of great interest though is the emerging understanding that if the gut isn’t happy, you probably aren’t either. Research has found a connection between the health of the gut and depression and anxiety.
…healthy volunteers who took specific strains of probiotics versus a placebo for 30 days experienced decreased psychological stress levels.
Chronic, low-level inflammation has been associated with depression. While there can be various factors involved in depression etiology, chronic, low-level inflammation can stem from the gut. The standard American diet has been connected with this increased inflammatory state. Studies have been published reporting inverse associations between diet quality and chronic mental disorders. Low-fiber, high-fat, high-sugar diets stimulate a short-term buzz, but actually are linked with an increased risk of depression.
Contrary to this, a high fiber diet that stimulates the production of important microbe-made substances, such as butyrate, increase our happiness potential. Animal research infers that butyrate works as an antidepressant and improves brain function.1 (For more on butyrate, look up “Butyrate and the Bowel” on lightbearers.org/blog.)
The permeability of the gut, also known as ‘leaky gut,’ is another factor. A way of assessing leaky gut is by measuring the endotoxin LPS. LPS is an architectural ingredient of the outer layer of some bacteria. Measured in the blood, it is used as an indicator of hyper-permeability of the gut. Rodents who consumed a high saturated fat diet had elevated markers of brain inflammation as well as increased levels of endotoxin LPS.2 “Chronic, low-level inflammatory condition is present in depression, which may be associated with gut permeability disorders. The microbiota has been suggested to be the key factor in the link between unhealthy diets and depression.”3
A double-blind, placebo-controlled, and randomized group study revealed that healthy volunteers who took specific strains of probiotics versus a placebo for 30 days experienced decreased psychological stress levels.4
While specific strains have been found to have significant efficacy on depression, the point is that the gut has something to do with how you feel. Distracting ourselves with food and drink could be compromising the microbial world in our gut and promoting low-level inflammation that, in the end, is stabbing us in the back—or, more accurately, the brain—with depression.
Some people argue that removing favorite foods from the diet takes the joy out of life. They say, “I’d rather die younger and happier.” The question is, are those foods really making you happier? Or are they giving you a temporary enjoyment that is leaving you in a mental state that will require more and more pick-me-ups?
Jesus was offered sour wine while He was experiencing excruciating agony on the cross. Sour wine was all that the world had to offer Him, but He refused it. Sour wine is an antidote to pain but the effect is short term. The pain will return and long-term well-being will be even harder to achieve. There is a whole lot of “sour wine” available to us today. I hope that you’ll look at it now with a wary eye and, through Calvary’s power, seek the lasting solution to our pain.
- SS. Valvasorri, et al., “Sodium butyrate functions as an antidepressant and improves cognition and enhanced neurotrophic expressions in models of maternal deprivation and chronic mild stress,” Current Neurovascular Research, 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25233278.
- A. Evrensel and M.E. Ceylan, “The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression,” Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, Dec 31, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26598580.
- Michael Berk, et al., “So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from?,” BMC Medicine, vol. 11, Sept 12, 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3846682/.
- Amy R. Romijn, et al., “A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum for the symptoms of depression,” The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Jan 10, 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5518919/.
Risë Rafferty, RDN
Risë is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and has been writing and teaching about health for many years. She loves the health message and takes great pleasure in seeing people thrive by the application of its principles. Her research and down-to-earth manner allow her to offer up the health message in both an intelligent and accessible manner. She and her husband, James Rafferty, have two children.