Your food influences your mood: The second brain residing in our stomachs

Dr Hilary Jones
food intolerance getty 300x225 Your food influences your mood: The second brain residing in our stomachs

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Our stomachs can often be a mystery to us and many of us don’t realise just how much the foods we eat can impact on our mood and mental wellbeing.

According to charity Allergy UK, a shocking 45% of us suffers with food and drink intolerances, beverage – this is called food intolerance.

Food intolerance is a much more common problem than food allergy and one of the most harmful symptoms can be low mood. 1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer problems with their mood or mental health every year, with anti-depressant prescriptions increasing by over 40% in the last 5 years*.

Recent research from YorkTest Laboratories, leading experts in food intolerance testing, has found that 97% of their customers reported problems relating to mood as a significant symptom of their food intolerance, of which 73% felt that their mood had significantly improved after altering their diets to remove foods to which they reacted**.

In addition, in a recent paper published in the journal of Nutrition and Food Science, over 81% of patients reported a significant improvement in mood and mental wellbeing as a direct consequence of applying the dietary changes recommended by YorkTest.

So how is it that the food we eat can have such a significant impact on our mood?

Bidirectional connections between the gut and the brain are complex and are regulated in the body in three different ways; through nerves, hormones and the immune system. The gut mediates the body’s immune response; at least 70 per cent of our immune system is situated in the gut and is used to expel and kill foreign invaders.

Our gut contains some 100 million neurons (nerve cells), more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. All of these neurons lining our digestive system do much more than merely handle digestion or cause occasional nervous feelings. Our gut partly determines our mental state and plays key roles in certain diseases throughout the body. Many people will not be aware that 90% of serotonin, the brain’s ‘happy hormone’ is produced in the gut – it is for these reasons that the gut is often referred to as the ‘second brain’.

In addition, research has shown that depression is frequently associated with gastrointestinal inflammation – a common symptom of food intolerance. By tackling unidentified food intolerances, not only will physical symptoms benefit, but mental health symptoms can often show significant improvement.

There are a number of ways to identify potentially mood suppressing food intolerances, one that I recommend that is scientifically validated and well researched is YorkTest, its food and drink intolerance test called Food&DrinkScan can uncover potential food and drink triggers, allowing people to simply modify their diets with life changing health benefits.

Additional Sources:

* Figures obtained from NHS Prescription Services under the Freedom of Information Act by the BBC

** Survey of 800 YorkTest customers. Figures based on responsive customers only

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  • Chris Satori

    Animals secrete hormones too. Eat from an animal that died miserable and frightened and get a trace dose of what it experienced. We are wired to attribute external causes to any internal disquiet, ie we assume we feel messy because there’s a mess happening around us. But it’s possible the events around around one would seem more easily manageable if our systems and thought-processes were not being tossed around by the hormones, additives, sugar and fats in the normal diet.

    Another reason for feeling messy can be that one isn’t compensating for alcohol, caffeine or other drugs with the extra vitamin intake required to metabolise them into kicks, so the system gets leached out, leaving one feeling frayed, overwhelmed and irritable.

    I’m intolerant of the shelf-life additives present in many comfort foods, usually wheat-based such as cake and biscuits, so that they can be stored for months. It’s basically fungicide and can be depressing over the following days, usually with a time-delay of a day or so, which can make the connection hard to spot. If you must comfort eat, go fresh as you can. Or it’s not that comforting. And chuck in a bit of fibre to keep it moving. Flour + water = glue. The longer your system is gummed up with something, the longer it takes to flush the toxins and the more boggled you will feel.

    Your GP may pay more attention if you can produce a legible record of diet and mood kept over a month or so. Make a note of brands too. It’s an effort, but so is changing your diet. It may not be a whole food group that is bothering you, just one production line. A test won’t tell you that.

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