September 24, 2019

Food and Mood: The Complex Interplay Between Brain and Diet

microbiome and mental healthHave you ever wondered WHY we crave certain foods? Do we crave foods because we are craving a nutritional or chemical substance found in the foods? Or are we craving the feeling of food — the sensory-enriching process of enjoying what we eat?
 
Ralph Carson, LD, RD, PhD and Ovidio Bermudez, MD, FAAP, FSAHM, FAED, F.iaedp, CEDS will answer these questions and more at this year’s Eating Recovery Foundation Conference in Denver on October 12th, 2019. The two esteemed speakers will discuss food cravings and the relationship to eating disorders, as well as the importance of a healthy microbiome and its role in mental health.
 
“If you ever wondered why we crave the foods that we do, this talk addresses how the brain and our gut bacteria contribute to pacifying or fueling those cravings. The insights into the science of satisfaction can be instrumental in addressing the challenges brought on by mood and anxiety and create solutions to emotional and compulsive eating behaviors,” shares Dr. Carson.
 
Food cravings and pleasure
 
Most of us understand the pleasure we feel when we eat one of our favorite foods: the luscious experience of taking a bite out of a gooey, chewy brownie or the crunchy satisfaction of a salty, greasy chip. 
 
Foods result in pleasure because they cause the brain’s reward center to release dopamine (a feel-good neurotransmitter). Food does this through sensory input (smell, taste, mouthfeel, appearance, or sound) or through previous pleasant experiences triggered by thoughts or cues (memories or fantasies). 
 
When an individual chooses to abstain from one of these beloved foods (like when an individual goes on a diet), this reward response is interrupted. The individual may start to feel bad and crave the experience or substance.
 
Food cravings and disordered eating
 
While people with a history of compulsive overeating can learn to change their relationship with food through clinical therapeutic interventions, those who overconsume highly palatable foods can be vulnerable to returning to their compulsive eating habits. 
 
This is how one’s failure to deal appropriately with cravings can lead to a frustrating struggle — possibly culminating in disordered eating. When mind-controlling and comfort foods are removed from a person’s diet, similar constructive alternatives need to take their place! If this replacement is not made, a person will not be able to recover from their eating disorder.  
 
The foods we crave may also play a role in determining the status of our mental health. We are just beginning to understand the importance of a healthy microbiome (microorganisms that live on and within us — including trillions living within the intestines) for patients suffering from anxiety and depression. 
 
Gut bacteria and our mental health
 
Humans have a second brain, called the enteric nervous system, that consists of approximately 100 trillion bacteria and 100 million nerves in the gut. Dysbiosis and inflammation in the gut have been linked as potential mood and eating disorder symptomology. Gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters and metabolize these compounds which ultimately influences the amount that reaches the brain. 
 
This enteric nervous system is one player in the gut–microbiome–brain axis, a complex two-way communication system between our gut microbes and our brains. The bidirectional nature of gut–brain communication is illustrated by the high degree of overlap between GI and mood disorders. Patients with GI disorders have higher rates of anxiety and depression than the general population, and patients with anxiety and depression experience more GI symptoms than healthy people. 
 
However, studies have shown that dietary alterations, probiotics and prebiotics can effectively mitigate anxiety and depressive symptoms similar to conventional prescription medications. 
 
Dr. Bermudez explains, “Every functional aspect of the human body is inter-related. This means that no part of it works in isolation and that each organ system depends on other organ systems for adequate functioning. This is especially true in the brain-gut connection. In this presentation, we will explore the influence of the microbiome on the brain and mood.”
 
Learn more about the microbiome this October
 
Drs. Carson and Bermudez will review cutting-edge research on the microbiome and provide a clear explanation of the sensory pathways involving emotional and reward centers of the brain. The presenters will use chocolate as a template as they explore the mechanism by which we crave foods. There will be a brief but informative overview of how the brain responds neurochemically to trigger foods and a mind body connection model will be introduced to support how we are wired to crave pleasure and how highly palatable foods can serve as the ultimate self-soothing solution. 
 
You won’t want to miss this fascinating talk at the 11th Annual Eating Recovery Foundation Conference. Network with distinguished treatment experts as we discuss the trends, developments, and emerging best practices shaping the field. 
 
Register here to attend in-person or via Livestream; earn up to 16.5 CEs. 
 
Ralph Carson, LD, RD, PhD and Ovidio Bermudez, MD, FAAP, FSAHM, FAED, F.iaedp, CEDS will present “Adventures on the Alimentary Canal: How the Gut Bacteria and Our Food Choices Influence Mood States and Eating Disorder Behavior” at the Eating Recovery Foundation Conference on Saturday, October 12th, 2019 at 3:30 p.m. at the Westin Denver Downtown. 
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