The Food, Mood, Gut, & Obesity Connection: New Research Offers Hope

Interview Dr. Andrea Nazarenko

Dr. Andrea Nazarenko is a research psychologist with the Obesity Research Team and Social Development Research Group at the University of South Carolina. She also works as a community psychologist, providing consultation services to multiple governmental and educational organizations.

In an interview with Dr. Nazarenko, explore how our digestive tracts and brains are interconnected. Learn how the different kinds of foods we eat can affect mood and why people who are obese actually process food differently than those who are not. Promising new research supports the use of alternative approaches in the treatment of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, obesity, and metabolic disorders.

Food and Mood

  • Inside our digestive tract or gut there are trillions of bacteria—known as a the microbiome—that keep us alive.
  • These bacteria (and other microorganisms) play a role in the overall functioning of our bodies (including brain function).
  • The composition and abundance of bacteria in our gut and the overall health of our gut is determined by what we eat. Diverse, real foods support a healthy microbiome.
  • There is direct communication between the brain and gut (known as the brain-gut axis). The gut is known as the “second brain.”
  • The gut bacteria are responsible for the formation of critical neurotransmitters (brain chemistry), including serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. These neurotransmitters play a role in mood and mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. They are also the compounds that antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication act upon in psychopharmacological approaches to improve mood.

Preliminary evidence suggests that probiotics and similar approaches to gut health may be beneficial for alleviating depression and mental illness.

Bacteria Sculpt Your Gut

  • Obesity and metabolic disorders (the cluster of co-existing conditions that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and T2 diabetes) are major public health concern.
  • The traditional approach to reducing obesity is improving diet and increasing physical activity. This is the basis of the energy balance scale—i.e., consume less than you burn off through exercise and you will lose weight.
  • New research suggests that this is only part of the equation.
  • Inside our gut (digestive tract) there is an entire ecosystem of trillions of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that help us sustain survival. These bacteria (known as the microbiome) play an important role in the extraction and use of nutrients from food.
  • Imbalances in the gut microbiome underlie obesity.
  • Obese individuals may be extracting more calories from food than non-obese individuals.This means that even if two people eat the same foods, the way they are processed differs based on the microbiome.
  • Gut microbiota may influence both sides of the energy balance scale: influencing both the energy (caloric) extraction from food and the way our body stores or expends this energy.
  • Associations between the gut and obesity open the door for new possible therapeutic strategies for obesity prevention or treatment. Therapies that modulate the gut hold promise for obesity reduction.

Available for Interviews:
Dr. Andrea Nazarenko MA, MA, MAS, PhD
Author, When Food Hurts: 4 Steps to a Gut-Happy Lifestyle: Overcome Food Sensitivities, Eczema, ADHD, Autism, Digestive Problems, Depression, Anxiety, Brain Fog, Fatigue, Autoimmunity and Chronic Disease 

Jo Allison
PR Managing Editor
Success In Media, Inc.

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