Unraveling food addiction
…and what it tells us about the brain GUT connection
Perhaps you’ve wondered if it is possible for a person to be addicted to a food. Do the phrases; “I’m addicted to cheese” or “I’m addicted to bread” sound familiar? It turns out that you can actually be addicted to certain types of foods and for many people these foods feed their emotional/mood problems. This is because certain foods have a drug like effect on our brains.
Very often the foods people feel almost uncontrollable cravings for, act as triggers in their bodies feeding their pain and depression. And it’s not just people with depression anxiety, OCD, ADHD and ASD who suffer the ill effects of these opiate producing types of foods. Those with unresolved gastrointestinal issues or who suffer from fatigue, or chronic constipation or diarrhea are also very often struggling with these food addictions.
While there are several classifications of foods that act as opiates in our brain and guts, today, I am focusing on a few of the more common addictive foods.
Most common opiate receptor foods
Many of the most commonly consumed foods in the Standard American Diet actually contain narcotic properties associated with the presence of psychoactive chemicals that bind to opioid receptors in the nervous system. The top offending foods that act as opiates in people are gluten, casein (found in dairy) and sugar.
Gluten is highly addictive. This is one reason people have such a difficult time eliminating it from their diet. Modern wheat contains several gluten exorphins. Gluten is also used as a filler in a huge number of products. This means when we consume gluten (and those products with hidden gluten) we are feeding the addiction because we are hooked on its drug like effects.
Casein is the main protein in milk and cheese. As you digest casein, it breaks apart to release opiates, called casomorphins – that is, casein-derived morphine-like chemicals. Shortly after you swallow a bite of cheese pizza, these chemicals enter your bloodstream and pass to your brain and attach to your opiate receptors.
Is it any wonder one of America’s favorite foods is pizza? Cheese, bread and tomatoes – oh my!
Sugar is also highly addictive and as humans it seems we are hard wired to love this stuff! The food industry knows this and this is why it’s added to thousands of products. The more we eat sugar the more we crave more of it. Sugar also acts like a drug on our brains. When we eat sugar it ends up in receptor site on our brain that give us a “high” and we want more.
Cravings and allergies
We tend to crave the foods we are actually allergic or sensitive too. Very often these foods trigger uncontrollable, compulsive eating, The gratification is short-lived and is followed by discomforts and depression with renewed cravings. Then the cycle begins again as these addictions cause people to consume these foods to sooth themselves and experience temporary relief , almost as if they are getting high.
Sometimes people crave specific types of foods as a way to self-correct imbalances in their brain chemistry. Chemistry imbalances throw off levels of key brain chemicals called neurotransmitters such as; GABA, serotonin, acetylcholine, DOPA. These chemical imbalances can pre-dispose individuals to develop cravings, addictions, and dependency issues. In these cases the individual will reach for the foods that provides the desired brain effect; a sense of calmness to counter anxiety, a sense of happiness to counter low moods, or energy boosts to counter slow brain speed and energy.
The brain GUT connection
Determining why you crave certain foods can help solve underlying health issues above and beyond emotional imbalances. This is because we have what is called a GUT – Brain Axis. Our body has a special nerve called the vagus nerve that is at the center of this communication pathway that extends from our GUT to our brain.
The vagus nerve is actually two cranial nerves that extend from the brain stem and connect down to the viscera. Sometimes this nerve is referred to as cranial nerve X, the 10th cranial nerve or the wandering nerve. These nerves are used to send a variety of signals throughout the body, but will also transfer signals back to the brain. The vagus nerve is also known for wandering through the body, weaving through the abdomen and branching into other nerves that extend through the limbs and organs.
The vagus nerve is used to regulate a variety of body functions including the heartbeat and the muscle movement necessary to keep you breathing. This nerve also regulates the chemical levels in the digestive system so that the intestines can process food and keep track of what types of nutrients are being gained from the food that is taken in.
A great deal of research is being done in this area and we have much more to understand about how all of this communication works. But what we do know is this: when you have a decrease in activity in the brain, that decreases the activation of the vagal motor nuclei, which in turns suppresses the intestinal immune system and decreases intestinal blood flow. This can lead to increased growth in pathogenic yeast and bacteria. In turn this can cause intestinal permeability or leaky gut. Remember, leaky gut is actually low grade inflammation. Now once this happens the inflammatory cytokines produced in the gut travel through the blood and they cross the blood-brain barrier. So now you have inflammation in the GUT that travels to the brain and that it makes the blood-brain barrier leaky so you get leaky brain.
Interestingly this inflammation of the brain along with the inflammation in the GUT is found in people with conditions as wide ranging as a TBI (traumatic brain injury) to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Kharrazain, DHSc, DC, MNeuroSc is a leading expert in the area of brain GUT health has shown for many people with chronic, unresolved health issues there is a disconnect or interruption of communication that makes it necessary to repair this pathway before comprehensive healing can begin He is a pioneer in this field and has developed some techniques to help people repair this broken pathway. 
Watch this clip to hear Dr. Kharrazian explain of how he’s found ways to repair this pathway:
List of possible causes for food cravings
- leaky gut
- methylation, detoxification inefficiencies
- inflammatory reactions to opiates found in specific classifications of foods (phenols, salicylates, glutamates, amines)
- imbalances in hormone levels
- blood sugar dis-regulation problems
- sensitivities to food additives
- toxic exposures
- heavy metal burden
- neurotransmitter imbalances
- opioid effects of trigger foods such as gluten, casein, corn, soy
- adrenal imbalances and erratic cortisol levels
- disconnection in communication between the brain and GUT axis
Connecting the dots
Can you see how intimately connected our digestive system is with our brain? This is a two way street of communication, so what afflicts our GUT afflicts our brains and vice versa.
Isn’t it time we stop treating the parts of a person’s health problem, yet neglect the whole person? Everything comes back to the GUT. This tells me a better, more effective way is a holistic approach that examines all the interconnections between mind and body.
If’ you’ve been struggling with health issues and want to explore the new paradigm in real health CONTACT ME and let’s see if I can help you connect the dots!
 Dr. Kharrazian’s Why isn’t my Brain Working?