Nutrition and Neurotransmitters: Week Two

Food as Medicine


Did you know that your body uses chemicals to communicate? Learn about a special type of chemical called a neurotransmitter and how your nerve cells use it to discuss what's going on in and around you.

What Are Neurotransmitters?

If you have a secret to share, you whisper it in your friend's ear, but did you know that some of your cells also share secrets? Nerve cells, or neurons, are the cells found in your nervous system. Neurons talk to each other using special chemicals called neurotransmitters, so neurotransmitters are like chemical words.

For example, if you see a ball coming toward you, you swing a bat, but how did you know to swing? Well, neurons in your eyes told neurons in your brain what was coming, and those neurons told neurons going to your arm muscles to swing. All of this talking was not done with words; it was done with neurotransmitters.

Chemicals that make us happy

Dopamine Affecting Appetite

There is no doubt we take pleasure in food. It was the first pleasure. Dopamine plays a part in both hunger and satiety.

When we are hungry, our blood sugar gets low, or we lose weight too fast, ghrelin and neuropeptide Y stimulate the body to seek out food. These hormones also stimulate dopamine production. Eating is often pleasurable based on the types of food we choose to eat.

Conversely, insulin and leptin suppress appetite and dopamine production. Being too full or having high blood sugar creates non-pleasurable sensations.

Unfortunately, when people eat foods lacking in nutrients (sugar, grain, and chemical-rich and overly processed) and are overweight or obese, these hormones are thrown out of balance. We could become too addicted to food and eat too much.

Dopamine and Sugar

Saturated fats

The Second Brain: Microbiome

Introducing the Human Gut Microbiome

The Second Brain

Probiotics:  Why do they matter?

Researchers have discovered that there is a large ecosystem at work in our guts that functions as our second brain.  The diversity and number of healthy bacteria that live in our gut impacts our moods.  When we have a diverse and vibrant bacterial community in our guts, studies have shown that anxiety and depression decrease.  How exactly this happens is not completely understood yet but studies continue to find convincing correlations.   There is evidence that a healthy gut can curb inflammation and cortisol levels, lower your reaction to stress, improve memory and even reduce neuroticism and social anxiety.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits when consumed.  While some people take a probiotic supplement to increase the number of healthy bacteria in their microbiome, there are ways to increase them through food.  Fermented foods such as kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, tempeh and yogurt, when incorporated in the diet on a regular basis can have a great impact on the biodiversity of the gut microbiome.

Factors affecting the microbiome:

There are many factors that can affect the health and well being of the microbiome.  Things like the amount of antibiotic exposure, nutrition, environmental factors, mode of birth (vaginal delivery versus c-section) and mode of feeding in infancy (breast or bottle).  The good news is that there are many ways, through diet and lifestyle that one can increase the number of healthy bacteria located in their gut.

How Food Affects the Gut Microbiome

Gut Microbiome and Sleep

Signs that one’s microbiome is diversified and healthy

  • My thoughts feel clear and I am able to concentrate
  • I rarely get sick and when I do I recover quickly
  • I get adequate amounts of good quality sleep
  • I do not suffer from chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas and bloating
  • I do not have intense carbohydrate and sugar cravings
  • My mood is overall stable and I am able to navigate stress using coping tools

Page last modified March 11, 2024