Your body has two brains
Yep. I just said that. Did you know that the gut is often referred to as the “second brain”?
Not specifically the gut, though you’ll hear it called that, the enteric nervous system (ENS). The “gut” is generally the “gastrointestinal tract.” The enteric nervous system is embedded in the lining of the gastrointestinal system, beginning in the esophagus and extending down to the anus.
The ENS consists of sheaths of neurons embedded in the walls of the long tube of our gut.
Simply put: Neurons line the gut. The gut contains neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters affect our brain health. Balancing neurotransmitters is a brain and body job.
The second brain contains some 500 million neurons, one two-hundredth of the number of neurons in the brain and 5x as many as the one hundred million neurons in the human spinal cord.
Emotions and the gut
About 90 percent of the fibers in the primary visceral nerve, the vagus nerve, carry information from the gut to the brain. This has huge implications.
For one thing, people tend to associate neurotransmitters with the brain. When people talk about mental health issues such as depression, they often speak of neurotransmitters. For example, we talk about selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI medication) such as Paxil, Lexapro, Prozac, and Zoloft to treat depression.
But read this:
95% of the body’s serotonin is produced by the gut nerve cells, and every class of neurotransmitters found in the brain is also found in the gut.
It’s a complex relationship.
Given the physical connection between the gut and the brain, it might not surprise you that our emotions are influenced by the nerves in our gut. Think “butterflies in your stomach” or that kind of anxiety, fear, or excitement (bad or good) that makes you want to vomit even if you might not be nauseated. Panic attacks. Stress diarrhea. The feeling you get when you first fall in love or when you have a crush. Antiici…..pation.
When we’re thinking about depression and other mental wellness issues, we need to look at what I call our Intake.
Food and mood
Our gut plays a prominent role. That means digestion plays a prominent role. That means that what we eat, how we eat, the combinations of foods, and eating what is right for us, affect our mental health.
Hippocrates, often referred to as “The Father of Medicine” and the author of the Hippocratic Oath that all medical practitioners take is famous for saying “All disease starts in the gut.” He also said, “Let food be thy medicine.”
Those two Hippocrates quotations alone are very telling. Disease starts in the gut, and food as medicine. What we put in our mouths can help us or harm us.
Some researchers say that up to 90 percent of all diseases can be traced in some way back to the gut and health of the microbiome (others say closer to 80%).
An aside: Bill and Ted might have invited Hippocrates back to their classroom if their project was in health class! They’d have called him “Hippo-crates,” like “So-crates” below:
(RIP, George Carlin.)
Little proteins and mood
There are two types of peptides (little proteins), specifically opioid peptides, that affect the morphine or opium receptors in the brain: Casomorphins, from the digestion of milk protein casein, and gluteomorphins derived from gliadin, one of the primary proteins found in gluten grains.
These peptides are absorbed from the gut and find their way to the brain, causing mood and behavioral problems. Gluteomorphins could also lead to the malabsorption of vitamins and minerals.
There are two ways that peptides cause problems in the brain:
- They look foreign, so the immune system reacts. This leads to overall inflammation which can show up as autoimmunity, autism, ADHD, depression or psychosis. The brain gets inflamed as an immune response, just as when you bump another body part, it swells.
- Peptides leak into the body and brain and mess up brain function like heroin or a psychedelic drug would.
Source: Mark Hyman, MD, The Ultramind Solution.
(After I learned that, I wanted to have my peptide levels tested. It’s a urine test.)
The microbiome is a complex internal ecosystem of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi and other) located within our bodies. In adults, microorganisms make up about 1 to 3 percent of the body’s mass. That’s 1.5-4.5 pounds of bacteria in a 150-pound adult or 2-6 pounds in a 200-pound adult. (Source: National Institute of Health)
The vast majority of the bacterial species that make up our microbiome live in our digestive system/gut/ENS. Adults have over 100 TRILLION microorganisms living in their gut.
A loss of microbial diversity is called “dysbiosis” – which translates to “life in distress.” As it’s understood, dysbiosis is the loss of beneficial microbes and pathogenic (bad) ones encroach. Of course, we want more good bugs than bad. When bacteria are out of balance, so are we.
It’s a global health crisis.
In The Ultramind Solution, Dr. Mark Hyman wrote that when antibiotics are used to treat harmful bacteria, depression often lifts.
Dysbiosis is related to the food we eat – not just junk food vs. health food, but quality. It’s related to the water we drink. The air we breathe. Soil contamination. Pesticides. Pollution. Chemicals. Viruses, which lead to antibiotics, which lead to superbugs and so forth.
The gut microbiome and the immune system
Most of the immune system resides in your gut. The gut microbiome and the immune system influence each other and rely on each other.
I’m often telling my partner to lay off the jujubes because they (the sugar) suppress the immune system. You know what? He’s getting over a cold that made him feel dreadful. One day he suspected that he had the flu. Another day he proclaimed pneumonia. He subsequently had a temperature of 101°F. After about 4 days of uncomfortable sickness, he was on the mend. He gave me that cold and it barely registers. Sure, I’ve had a couple of excruciating headaches, including one that woke me up in the middle of the night with its stabbing, searing pain, and I’m coughing up a bit of mucus, but it’s nothing compared to his experience.
Until 2 days ago I’d gone without sugar, yeast or grains for a couple of weeks. I gave up beer and ate light proteins (more on that to follow in another post). I’ve been calling it my reset diet. Then there was birthday cake. My birthday cake. I chose to allow myself a slice or two of birthday cake.
I’ve also been taking Vitamin D, cod liver oil and probiotics regularly.
Microbiome, microbial diversity, and allergies
Some allergic reactions happen in the brain. It’s like a runny nose but in the brain. Therefore, food allergies can cause mental symptoms, such as brain fog, anxiety or depression.
Microbial diversity in poop samples in babies can indicate allergies later on.
I’ve tried to keep this concise and straightforward with little jargon. I have some related posts planned that might add more relatable context to it. This piece of writing and those related ones that haven’t been written yet have been rolling around in my head for almost two weeks. When I started to draft this one a few days ago, I had too many ideas to untangle. It wasn’t until I started typing this one that I got into the flow and it practically wrote itself. A lesson here: Sometimes procrastination is useful.
When I posted this a little over a week ago, I didn’t know that my second version of smoothie bowl would provide me with two types of treats in one bowl.
I’ll keep this introduction brief, because when I find a recipe on someone’s blog via Google I don’t want to read through their entire narrative, I just want the recipe.
As I said in that Instagram post on Tuesday of last week, I craved a warm smoothie after a snowy dog walk. I usually cringe at the idea of a “smoothie bowl”. It’s a trend that I don’t understand. Why put a smoothie in a bowl when you can drink it from a nice glass and a glass straw, like the ones from Strawesome? (I own around 4.) I prefer my smoothies more liquid than thick. I don’t want to eat smoothies with a spoon. That’s like soup.
And yet, rather than a regular hot chocolate smoothie, I wanted to try something new and be adventurous. I also wanted to use “superfood powders” that I’ve had in my cupboard for years, because I don’t use them anymore and don’t want to throw them out. For many years I was a hoarder of superfood powders. Now I’m over it.
(If you subscribe to my newsletter you might get a free ebook called, “5 Superfoods That You Might Already Have in Your Kitchen” and if you don’t, email me. I’m working on updating the book with updated links and don’t know if it’s automatically sending with newsletter subscription confirmations anymore. Updates to the book and such are on my to do list.)
Brief explanations about the superfoods used follows the recipe.
Two days after making the first hot chocolate smoothie bowl I made another one that was even better because I included the ingredients that I’d forgotten in the first round.
Using my favourite Genuine Health products
This smoothie bowl also uses two of my favourite products from Genuine Health: Greens + Extra Energy (cappuccino flavour) and fermented Greek yogurt proteins+.
No one from Genuine Health knows I’m posting this. They haven’t sponsored it. I’m not being obsequious. I haven’t been to a GH promotional event in a long time. However, it was around this time last year that I was introduced to Greens + Extra Energy (as I posted one year ago yesterday- with my introduction to fermented Greek yogurt proteins+ being five months later). This recipe finally killed my big container of greens.
Something cool about this recipe which I discovered after (as you’ll read below): It contains many mood-boosting ingredients! I could call it “The Anti-Anxiety Hot Chocolate Almond Smoothie” or “The Mood-Boosting Hot Chocolate Almond Smoothie” or, if you consume it in its “after” stage, “Mood-Boosting Chocolate Almond Smoothie Bites”.
As a smoothie, it will be thin liquid at first but with the gelatin, it will thicken as it cools and no longer be “hot chocolate”. (More on that below the recipe.) If you want it thicker, add the suggested oats.
Yield: 1 serving
It’s gluten-free, sugar free and can be made with or without dairy.
Hot Chocolate Almond Smoothie
(A prettier, printable version with less detail follows.)
1 C milk of your choice (dairy, almond, rice, etc.)
2 Tbsp raw cacao or cocoa powder (I like the Organic Traditions brand)
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp grass fed gelatin powder (I use the one by Great Lakes)
1/2 Tsp vanilla powder (also Organic Traditions) or a drop of vanilla extract.
Optional: 1/4 C rolled oats
2 Tbsp almond butter
1 Tbsp Genuine Health Fermented Greek Yogurt Proteins+ (or other vanilla protein powder of your choice).
1 Tsp chaga mushroom powder
1/2 Tsp gelatinized maca
1/4 Tsp slippery elm powder
1 scoop of Greens + Extra Energy, cappuccino flavour
3 pitted dates (for sweetness)
Banana (definitely), cocoa nibs, hemp seeds – if you want/have.
- Add the gelatin powder to your measuring cup where you pour the milk. Stir and let sit for one minute. It will be smooth.
- In a small pot, combine milk-gelatin powder mixture with chocolate powder, coconut oil, vanilla, and oats (if using). Whisk as you bring it to a boil.
- Transfer to a blender (I use a Vitamix) and add the almond butter, protein powder, chaga mushroom, maca and slippery elm. Put the lid on tight. Blend until creamy and smooth.
- Pour into a bowl and top with banana, hemp seeds and cocoa nibs, or pour it in a nice glass and drink it.
(Brands of hemp seeds I prefer are Manitoba Harvest and Ruth’s Hemp. I’m not too brand loyal with cocoa nibs but am currently enjoying a big bag of Giddy YoYo.)
Instead of heating the milk/gelatin in a pot you could heat it in the microwave alone and then transfer it to a blender with the remaining ingredients and blend. I suspect that using a stick blender in the pot would work too instead of a whisk + blender.
- Instead of gelatin powder you could use Great Lakes Gelatin Collagen Hydrolysate, which is cold water soluble.
- Please don’t go out and buy all of those powders, unless you want to, and unless you’re going to use them again. Use what you’ve got. You can omit them all if you’d like. I recommend always having vanilla powder, cacao (obviously), coconut oil (my favourite head-to-toe oil) and almond butter around, but save your money and don’t buy the rest just for this. I do always like to have the Collagen Hydrolysate on hand, but that’s because I use it to make my own Bulletproof-inspired coffee.
- Don’t worry if you get globs of gelatin in the pot. The blender will break it up.
- A brief description of the superfood powders used is located at the bottom of this post.
After initially posting this I made it again & took this photo. A few pinches of ginger made it in this time. Click to see it bigger.
IMPORTANT: IF YOU HAVE LEFTOVERS…
Put the bowl in the fridge (or transfer to a container). When you remove it, the gelatin will have transformed the smoothie from liquid to solid snack that’s between a pudding and a Jello – a creamy Jello.
If you’ve ever made Jello or cooked with gelatin you know that it dissolves in hot water and sets to a gel when it cools. I wasn’t thinking about that when I put my smoothie in the fridge. I knew it would thicken, and it certainly thickened as I ate (I eat slowly), but I didn’t anticipate how thick it would be after refrigeration. How thick? It went from this:
To this… Ta da! I present to you Chocolate Almond Energy Pudding Bites:
I like how the banana looks. Imagine if I’d transferred the smoothie to a container, and then either sliced into squares or used a cookie cutter.
Yes, I should choose a name and stick with it.
If you want a chocolate-almond butter pudding-like snack…
…make the recipe above, immediately put it into a container and chill.
I will use a 1/2 Tbsp of gelatin next time and report back.
If you use Greens+ Extra Energy, and you’re affected by caffeine, don’t consume later in the day. You could use another greens powder but I think that here, cappuccino flavour was key. I’ve had to remind myself not to sneak bites later in the day. It looks like dessert. The next time I make this I probably will omit the Extra Energy for this reason.
A cool observation:
On Monday morning my mental state was in rough shape. I was having an existential meltdown after finding an old journal/workbook that, upon reading some of it, upset me and made me question my life. After eating a few squares of this I felt so much better. It was like I’d taken an anti-depressant. It could be coincidence, but here’s my theory:
- Chocolate is mood-boosting. Cocoa boosts the brain neurotransmitter serotonin, which affects mood, anxiety and happiness. Further research lead me to a CNN article with this information: “According to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in May 2013, those who drank a chocolate drink once daily (the equivalent of 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate) reported feeling calmer and more content than those who didn’t.” Here’s the study.
- Some of the ingredients in the Greens+ Extra Energy are mood boosting/balancing. I went to have a look at the ingredients to check that theory and found a lot of mood-boosting ingredients in there, including:
- Ginseng, a powerful adaptogen that helps your body cope with stress. A study published in Human psychopharmacology in August 2010 found that 200 milligrams of ginseng for eight days slowed the fall in mood. The 400 milligram dose improved calmness. This wouldn’t have affected me after a few bites, but it’s worth noting.
- Rhodiola, another adaptogen, which I sometimes take as a supplement to help with depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studies have shown Rhodiola to significantly reduce symptoms in patients with mild to moderate depression
- L-Tyrosine, an amino acid used to produce dopamine. Tyrosine improves mood and stress response and supports energy and motivation. According to WebMD, People take tyrosine for depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other issues.
- A little bit of research told me that one banana contains up to 10 milligrams of neurotransmitter dopamine.
…Now, I’m not sure that small amount I ate would affect my mood, but there is an indication that it could have.
A brief explanation of the superfoods used
Chaga mushroom powder
Among chaga’s potential heath benefits: Supports the immune system and balances it, has high antioxidant and antimicrobial activity, could help protect your cells
Maca is rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. According to various studies, maca helps balance hormones in both women and men, is beneficial for libido (female and male) and fertility. Black maca has positive effects on sperm production. In addition to that, and related to it, maca has a positive affect on mood (as does increased libido), energy and stamina. Yes, sexual stamina too. People call it the “sexy root”.
Slippery elm contains mucilage, a substance that becomes a slick gel when mixed with water. It coats and soothes mucous membranes in the mouth, throat, stomach, and intestines while also absorbing toxins that can cause intestinal imbalances. It soothes inflammation in the stomach and small intestine.
So, go on and make this mood boosting drink/pudding-like snack.
Tell me: What would YOU call the smoothie and the chilled version?
Click here for a prettier & printer-friendly version of the recipe
Here’s the short version today:
Today’s speakers review the top medicinal supplements for common health conditions: heart disease, pain, adrenal fatigue, thyroid dysfunction, gut health and autoimmunity.
ACCESS IT HERE
Today’s Medicinal Supplements Summit experts:
Best Supplements for Heart Health and High Cholesterol
- Myth of “high cholesterol” as a causative factor in heart disease
- he dangers of statins and natural alternatives
- Supplements to improve contributors to heart disease
Amy Myers, MD
Supplements for Optimal Thyroid Function
- Supplements to improve thyroid function
- Best supplements for autoimmune disease
- Iodine for Hashimoto’s Disease, yes or no?
Website: Amy Myers MD.
Tom O’Bryan, DC
Best Supplements for Gut Health and Autoimmunity
- Hidden gluten in supplements
- Best supplements for digestive issues
- How gluten and leaky gut foster autoimmunity
Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS
A Killer Key to Detox You Haven’t Heard of…Yet!
- How sluggish bile causes health issues!
- Why bile is needed to detox heavy metals
- Supplements/foods to improve bile flow and production
Noah De Koyer, DC
Best Supplements for Pain
- Addressing inflammation is the key to reducing pain
- Supplements to reduce acute pain and inflammation
- Best supplements for chronic pain
Website: Centre for Epigenetic Expression
Evan Brand, CFMP, NTP, CPT
Top Supplements to Heal Adrenal Fatigue
- Fatigue, low mood, low motivation and poor memory
- Ideal supplements to heal the adrenals
- How adaptogenic herbs calm the adrenals
Website: Not Just Paleo
ACCESS IT HERE