Let’s Celebrate the Brain –Gut Connection – For a Happy Parkie Thanksgiving!: By Dr. De Leon


As we approach the biggest feast of the year –THANKSGIVING meal-where we all sometimes tend to overindulge only to feel guilty afterwards – this year I want all of us to take advantage of the beautiful intrinsic system in place to boost our serotonin levels to help improve our sleep, bowel motility and our overall well-being.

We all know that those of us who battle Parkinson’s disease tend to suffer from low serotonin as seen in our poor sleep, constipation and frequent bouts of depression. This is because serotonin also known as 5 hydroxytryptamine (5-HTP) is in charge of regulating the mood, sleep, and in charge of many of our body’s vital functions.

We use to think that serotonin was primarily a brain neurochemical located primarily in the brainstem center (raphe nucleus) of vital organ control such as thermoregulation, sleep, pain response, and breathing. However, it turns out that 95% of the serotonin (50% of dopamine) in our bodies is made and located in our guts!

So that idea of having a “gut instinct” is more accurate than we thought. We are what we eat after all. There is a greater connection between the brain and the gut than we ever imagined. Does any one else get extremely irritable or migranous if they don’t eat on time?  Usually starts about 15-30 minutes before feeding time. the only way to ward off this ugly monster from rearing its head is to feed it and feed it FAST! this is because our serotonin levels have hit rock bottom. It has been studied that low levels of serotonin sets off feelings of anger ( in the amygdala) and decreases the calming effect usually given by the pre-frontal lobe. So it turns out that those individuals who experienced fast /rapid depletion of serotonin can lead to people being more prone to aggression- maybe a reason why PD patients get more aggressive with intake of dopamine agonists. as we increase dopamine – invariably serotonin levels go down.

WHY is this?

Back at the beginning in our embryological development, the initial cells divided into the central nervous system and the enteric (gut) nervous system. Outside of the brain, the gut has the most neuron connections having an estimated 600 million neurons. Furthermore, the gut sends four times as many signals to the brain than vice versa.  It is no wonder why many scientists and people believe not only the gut to be “the second brain,” but also as Japanese believe the midsection to be the ‘center of all wisdom,‘(physical and spiritual) also known as the HARA. So, when they say I know– they often point to their stomach just below the navel rather than their head as we would. Thus giving us a whole new insight into ‘gut feelings.’

The brain apparently is extremely active and is telling us more than we are discerning. The gut has its own set of intelligence which warns us in subtle ways like having butterflies, being nauseated, or even having knots in our stomach.  Since so much serotonin and dopamine lie in our gut, we really must pay attention as to what we feed it to make it happy and in turn make us happy. More than ever it seems that the saying you are what you eat has greater significance and even more so for those of us who have  Parkinson’s and chronic constipation and a whole host of other gi problems – it’s no wonder we feel sad, depressed, in pain and unable to sleep. The gut is also in sync with the brain during sleep as the brain cycles through 90 minutes of slow waves frequencies followed by rapid eye movements (REM) of dream state, the gut flows a similar pattern of 90 minute cycle of slow – wave contractions of the gut followed by brief rapid muscular movements strengthening the idea of a brain -gut connection.

 WHAT can we do to keep our serotonin levels up for feeling of well- being?

Remember what we feed our stomachs also feeds our mind/brain. 

Thus, this Thanksgiving and every meal we must make conscious effort to feed our guts the right nutrients that will help stimulate the release of serotonin for a happier you. Yes, it is true that Turkey has some quantities of tryptophan the precursor of serotonin but you would have to consume excessive amounts of this wonderfully delicious favorite national dish on an empty stomach to get some of its serotonin effects. Rather than trying to get all of your serotonin needs through a huge serving of Turkey this Thanksgiving ( and everyday of the year), I recommend a well-balanced meal. Turkey is not the only product rich in tryptophan. Other products which contain this chemical are :

  • salmon (fatty fishes-i.e. sardines), eggs;
  • fruits like bananas, tomatoes, plums, cherries, pineapple, and kiwi;
  • according to the “journal of molecular medicine,” foods rich in B vitamins especially B6- cereals, rice and breads would be an excellent source.
  • nuts- almonds, walnuts, even peanut butter, etc.
  • popcorn
  • CHOCOLATE- dark

Great serotonin enriched meal after Thanksgiving would be a turkey sandwich on enriched bread  with tomatoes perhaps some fruit and or a piece of dark chocolate for dessert!  (you know I will be doing my part this week of helping my brain by having a piece of chocolate pie after my turkey!)

A well -balanced diet full of  carbs and proteins is your ticket to a happy new you – but first learn listen to your belly- it ALWAYS knows what it needs -feed it the right things and you too will be a much happier person despite Parkinson’s disease.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving Everyone & Many Blessings to All!






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