Part Four Food Addiction Series: The Second Brain

Steph Wagner MS, RDN

August 6, 2014

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Be sure to catch the first three videos in the Food Addiction, Obesity & Diabetes series!

The first one we talked about the two systems in the body that drive us to eat.

In the second video we talked about the hormone that can really send us to the pantry fast.

In last weeks video we talked about the best weapon we have…our minds.

Today we’re going to find out why researchers are saying we have a “second brain” at work when we’re eating…




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More and more researchers and professionals are referring to the gut as the second brain. This isn’t the gut you and I think of, but it means the digestive track where hormones and bacteria live. It’s also where the absorption of key nutrients take place. Why is it called the second brain? the hormones signal to the brain very important things including when to eat. (intro slide)

Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells and it’s designed to signal to the brain where we’ve had enough. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that controls blood sugars. When the body becomes resistant to insulin, as it does with diabetes, the body will produce even more insulin. High insulin, in turn, can block leptin signals to the brain. If leptin is what tells the brain we’ve had enough to eat, but too much insulin blocks the message, we continue to eat. If the brain is resistant to leptin, it invokes the starvation pathway. We eat more and we burn less.

Another key element is the enzyme ghrelin. The stomach produces ghrelin and this enzyme stimulates appetite. It’s often called “the hunger hormone.” To remember this one, I call it the hunger gremlin. With weight-loss surgery ghrelin levels are dramatically lowered. In the gastric sleeve surgery specifically research has found ghrelin to be reduced by about 60% long-term.

So as you can see, between leptin, insulin and ghrelin…there is more than just brain chemistry going on here. We have a second brain, or the gut,  influencing our food intake.

Even this part of our body has responses to addictive foods. We are hard-wired for sweet, fatty and salty foods. Once again it’s not about will-power. We need to understand our bodies and stop blaming ourselves for wanting to eat pleasurable foods. It used to be this would help humans survive when food was scarce. But now food companies purposely make extra sweet or extra fatty foods. And unfortunately compulsive eating of these foods is the result. So what to do?

I may sound like a broken record if you’ve been watching videos from earlier in this series, but once again the take home message boils down to this: take care of yourself.

if you eat consistent meals, stay hydrated and focus on the right food choices, your body will know what to do. it has been beautifully and wonderfully made to survive and knows how to go back to a balanced state of homeostasis.

By eating consistent meals blood sugars are regulated. Insulin does it’s job. The brain can get the message from leptin. Grehlin is lowest after a meal is eaten. For diabetic patients, this is even more reason to keep close regulation of your blood sugars. It has been shown that even a 10% weight loss will improve hormones. When we keep things in order, the body will operate exactly how it’s designed. you will have a better chance to making good food choices when there aren’t mixed messages coming from all these different hormones telling your brain to eat high fat and high sugar foods. Plan ahead and be smart. Do it every day and your body will be happy and healthy and you’ll feel in control. Consistency is the key.[/member]

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