Obesely Speaking

The brain and obesity

Your Brain, Your Gut, and Being a Keeper

What gut bacteria has to do with being lovable


An endless cacophony of reasons for being alone rise up in the air of singles bars: my age, my weight, my looks, my job, my income, my location etc. The truth is people who unsuccessfully hunt for relationships are generally just not fun to be with because of their moods and subsequent behaviors. Nobody likes a bad mood. Even Amazon and Walmart don’t sell bad moods, and you know when you cannot find something at Walmart or on Amazon, there is only reason—nobody wants it. Have you ever gone out looking to meet someone in a bad mood? Have you ever wanted to wake up in a bad mood? Exactly, and that is why Walmart and Amazon cannot sell bad moods—nobody wants to have them or deal them. Yet, you can find them on every corner, 24/7/365, which is curious. However, recent research suggests that what we eat may be more responsible for our bad moods than we realize.1-6 So much so, that it might actually determine how loveable we are.

Connecting Gut Bacteria, and the Brain

People used to think, as long as you weren’t a cannibal, what you ate was not as important as your personality. However, it turns out that your personality and what you eat are connected.2,3,5,7

 Scientists found that transplanting fecal bacteria from timid mice to aggressive mice and vice versa affected the levels of the neurochemical, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).1 The transplant increased BDNF levels in the timid mice making them adventuresome, and decreased levels in the adventuresome mice making them timid. How many people get kicked to the curb because they are too bold, or not bold enough? 

BDNF is linked to anxiety.8-12 Anxiety comes from the perception of threat, whereas fear comes from actual threat.13,14 Regrettably, the old mammal brain, whose mantra is, “survive now, ask questions later,” cannot distinguish between perceived and actual threat. Thus, if you believe there is a lion at the door, in terms of the brain chemistry involved in fight-or-flight and stress regulation, then there is lion at the door. 15

The problem with anxiety, and especially persistent anxiety, is that it overworks your stress regulatory processes. This causes your body’s protective mechanisms to go from helping you to hurting you.16 It is like wearing your car’s brakes down until the pads are gone and your brakes become a liability, not an asset. In addition when you are anxious you think and act in unflattering ways. People often become agitated, acerbic, curt, or distracted. None of these things are on the date fun dial. Also, people with eating disorders are more likely to eat poorly when overly stressed. When you overeat, or make poor food choices you often become disappointed. This can be followed by depression. So there is a potential for a rapidly occurring downward synergy between your moods, global state of mind, self-agency, and behavior. The collateral damage of this synergy makes people less loveable. 

Does the animal research translate to humans?

While “this is huge,” as my Godson would say, the research is embryonic, and although people can be rats sometimes, we are not mice. So, does the animal research really translate to humans? Emeran Mayer MD, PhD, the pioneer of brain-gut interaction research, who has approached the animal research cautiously, says, “Some of the findings from the animal studies can be extrapolated to humans.” 

 Dr. Mayer, a neuroscientist and gastroenterologist, and Director of the Oppenheimer Family Center for the Neurobiology of Stress at UCLA was the first to establish a solid connection between the brain and the gut. Mayer’s team studied 23 healthy women for a month.17 They gave 12 of them fermented milk twice a day, containing 5 different strains of healthy bacteria. The remaining 11 women drank milk without the probiotics. Mayer scanned the women’s brains before and after the treatment, while showing them emotionally evocative pictures of faces. According to the brain responses, the women who received the probiotic treatment perceived negative emotions as less threatening. Perception is the key that unlocks the door to human behavior.

Connecting the Dots

We know that nine tenths of the cells in our bodies are bacteria as opposed to human cells. We know that we have a mutualistic relationship with the bacteria in our gut.18 We know that the bacteria in our gut behaves very much like warring street gangs only concerned with serving their interest.19,20 We know that these selfish bacteria affect the choices of foods that we eat.21,22 We also know that they are very vulnerable to our choices, i.e., certain food choices sustain certain bacteria while killing off others.23 We know that some bacteria is compatible with our best interest, whereas some in not.22,24-27 We now know that bacteria influence our brain function by altering neurochemicals in our brains that affect our behavior.3,28-30 However, we have just begun to articulate the operational mechanisms and dynamics. Some think it has to do with bacterial waste getting into the bloodstream and conceivably into the brain and changes the neurochemistry underlying our moods.31,32 Others think that gut bacteria travel along the vagus nerve, which is like a freeway from the gut to the brain. I suspect it is tremendously complex, and involves cellular binding status of receptors on the gut cell surfaces, and the incitation of intracellular processes and those consequences on informational substances like hormones etc. Science is concerned with many things, regrettably (or fortunately), what I suspect is not one of them.

However, all scientists share this concern: probiotic intervention, like the use of antidepressants is a difficult enterprise at best. Yes, there are conceivable benefits in some cases but understanding the particulars is like teaching a feral cat to sit. It can be accomplished, but getting there is going to be arduous and ugly.

In the interim, register with the American Gut Project and find out what type of gut bacteria you have. Observe how your body, brain, and gut bacteria respond to the foods you eat and various probiotics. Become a good consumer of the facts. Drink the kombucha, not the Kool-Aid when it comes to this. In terms of eating your way to love, start by loving yourself with what you eat. And as always, remain fabulous and phenomenal. 

 

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References

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5. Konturek PC, Brzozowski T, Konturek SJ. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J Physiol Pharmacol.  Dec;62(6):591-9.

6. Sanchez B, Ruiz L, de los Reyes-Gavilan CG, Margolles A. Proteomics of stress response in Bifidobacterium. Front Biosci. 2008;13:6905-19.

7. Messaoudi M, Lalonde R, Violle N, et al. Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. Br J Nutr.  Mar;105(5):755-64.

8. Kaplan GB, Vasterling JJ, Vedak PC. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor in traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and their comorbid conditions: role in pathogenesis and treatment. Behav Pharmacol.  Sep;21(5-6):427-37.

9. Li WJ, Yu H, Yang JM, et al. Anxiolytic effect of music exposure on BDNFMet/Met transgenic mice. Brain Res.  Aug 6;1347:71-9.

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13. Davis M. Are different parts of the extended amygdala involved in fear versus anxiety? Biological Psychiatry. 1998;44(12):1239.

14. Walker DL, Toufexis DJ, Davis M. Role of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis versus the amygdala in fear, stress, and anxiety. European Journal of Pharmacology. 2003;463(1-3):199.

15. McEwen BS. Plasticity of the hippocampus: adaptation to chronic stress and allostatic load. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2001 Mar;933:265-77.

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17. Tillisch K, Labus J, Kilpatrick L, et al. Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity. Gastroenterology.  Jun;144(7):1394-401, 401 e1-4.

18. Mu C, Zhu W. [MicroRNA regulation on host-microbiota interaction--a review]. Wei Sheng Wu Xue Bao.  Oct 4;53(10):1018-24.

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20. Salminen S, Bouley C, Boutron-Ruault MC, et al. Functional food science and gastrointestinal physiology and function. Br J Nutr. 1998 Aug;80 Suppl 1:S147-71.

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22. Arora T, Singh S, Sharma RK. Probiotics: Interaction with gut microbiome and antiobesity potential. Nutrition.  Apr;29(4):591-6.

23. De Preter V, Verbeke K. Metabolomics as a diagnostic tool in gastroenterology. World J Gastrointest Pharmacol Ther.  Nov 6;4(4):97-107.

24. Versalovic J. The human microbiome and probiotics: implications for pediatrics. Ann Nutr Metab.63 Suppl 2:42-52.

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26. Mekkes MC, Weenen TC, Brummer RJ, Claassen E. The development of probiotic treatment in obesity: a review. Benef Microbes.  Mar;5(1):19-28.

27. Lahti L, Salonen A, Kekkonen RA, et al. Associations between the human intestinal microbiota, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and serum lipids indicated by integrated analysis of high-throughput profiling data. PeerJ.1:e32.

28. Al-Asmakh M, Anuar F, Zadjali F, Rafter J, Pettersson S. Gut microbial communities modulating brain development and function. Gut Microbes.  Jul-Aug;3(4):366-73.

29. Forsythe P, Kunze WA. Voices from within: gut microbes and the CNS. Cell Mol Life Sci.  Jan;70(1):55-69.

30. Forsythe P, Sudo N, Dinan T, Taylor VH, Bienenstock J. Mood and gut feelings. Brain Behav Immun.  Jan;24(1):9-16.

31. Arpaia N, Campbell C, Fan X, et al. Metabolites produced by commensal bacteria promote peripheral regulatory T-cell generation. Nature.  Dec 19;504(7480):451-5.

32. Delzenne NM, Cani PD. Interaction between obesity and the gut microbiota: relevance in nutrition. Annu Rev Nutr.  Aug 21;31:15-31.

 

Billi Gordon, Ph.D., is  Co-Investigator in the  Ingestive Behaviors & Obesity Program, Center for the Neurobiology of Stress, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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