Monday, January 28, 2008

The Second Brain

About a year ago, I first learned about Dr. Lee Kaplan and his research on obesity and the digestive system's "second brain." I've even got his name set on my Google Alerts so I'll get any new published research he puts out. And yep, you guessed it - I got an Alert on him today. It's an older article, but I thought I'd share it here anyway. Very interesting information.


The Second Brain
A study on why weight loss can be so difficult

As a young man, Michael Gershon, professor of medicine at Columbia University, went against the wishes of his father and the advice of his professors who urged him to study the brain. Instead, he set off on an exploration of the bowel. Intrigued by some long- forgotten 20th century scientific discoveries about an independent nervous system in the gut, Dr. Gershon’s research uncovered how this sophisticated physiological wiring functions essentially as a "second brain." The gut, it turns out, has a mind of its own and plays a major role in deciding when and how much we eat. When the brain in the head says eat less and in moderation, the "second brain" in the gut can override the brain in the head and propel us to eat more and without restraint.

Obesity expert Dr. Lee Kaplan and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital compare the body’s hunger drive to the human body’s response to running up six flights of stairs. You can force yourself to breathe slowly for a few seconds, despite this exertion, but ultimately your body will demand more oxygen and you’ll breathe faster. When it comes to decisions about how much to eat, a similar battle occurs between your conscious will and your subconscious. And if your subconscious brain wants more food, it wins and you eat more.

A study of gastric bypass surgery has led Dr. Kaplan to a compelling discovery about how the body regulates food consumption, and the hope that someday surgery can be avoided altogether. Dr. Kaplan has found that weight loss in surgery patients is not just a result of making the stomach smaller. The surgery actually reduces the feeling of hunger by cutting some of the nerves in the bowel, which changes the signals that flow between the gut and the brain. It also alters the way the hormonal system gets its information from food and sends it to the brain. "By manipulating the gut, even in a small way, we end up changing the communication to the brain and the brain acts differently to manage our weight and metabolism," says Dr. Kaplan. His goal now is to completely replace surgery by developing a pharmaceutical that alters these intricate circuits in the same way that an invasive operation currently does.


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