Attitude and outlook may not all be in the head. Researchers have found that the gut can function like a second brain—influencing the nervous system and behavior. High fat intake has been shown to effect this gastrointestinal nervous system, helping to improve emotional balance. But not any fat will do—specific fatty acids are the key to unlocking a bright and stable frame of mind.
The gut isn't just about digesting food, it also regulates our emotional climate throughout the day. A specialized field of study dubbed neurogastroenterology links the workings of the gastrointestinal track with mood and emotional health. According to Michael Gershon, professor of pathology and cell biology at Columbia University, "The gut can work independently of any control by the brain in your head—it’s functioning as a second brain." Through a network of 100 million neurons in the gut called the enteric nervous system (ENS), over 30 neurotransmitters are produced that are identical to those found in the brain, one of which is serotonin. Incredibly, 90 percent of all serotonin is located in the gut. Remember, serotonin is an important feel good hormone that regulates sleep, appetite and mood. Gershon continues,"Tinkering with the second brain in our gut has lately been shown to be a potent tool for achieving relief from major depression."
The results of a Belgian study confirm Gershon's theory. Researchers bypassed the pleasures of eating by inserting a nasogastric tube into the stomach of healthy volunteers. They were then given either a saline or fatty acid solution through the tube. At the same time, each person was exposed to melancholy or neutral music along with sad or innocuous images. Feelings reported by participants as well as MRI brain scans showed that those who received the fatty acid infusion had about half the sadness compared with the saline group.
Feeding joyful emotions
For maximum emotional benefit, certain types of fat are more effective than others. Saturated fat from animal products like dairy, red meat and pork tend to cloud the brain, provoke aggression and trigger depression. Trans fats, which are found in foods like margarine, shortening and many fast foods, are another mood killer. A happier, more positive choice would be omega-3 rich foods like salmon and other cold water fish, walnuts, flax and chia seeds. These fatty acids 'feed' the gut and emotions in a constructive way—helping to nourish a sunny and balanced disposition by directly supporting the enteric nervous system's production of serotonin.
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