Your Amazing Stomach & Brain Connection Part 2

What is in common with the following phrases?

Someone says to you, “I am feeling it …it’s gonna happen!” Another says, “I gotta bad feeling about this.” And finally, you say, “Something just doesn’t feel right.”

The answer to what is in common is … (drum roll please), the “second brain”! That second brain is the “gut.” It is the only organ that has a complete nervous system and most important, can function without the brain or spinal cord. This system is a vibrant, energetic, data-processing system that takes in and gives out quality information 24/7.

So, what does this have to do with you, your students and your classrooms?

PART ONE: Research

Ulrich Trendelenburg was a German scientist who did a simple experiment on a guinea pig’s reactions. His results were published in 1917 and here’s what he found. When he isolated the bowel from the brain, the bowel responded to prompted stimuli just like a brain! It simply needed no connection to the nervous system.

This was the first time ever, that ANY organ was known to function without direct input from the brain. At the time, this isolated research was considered profound. But there was no Twitter or Facebook, and there were not 3,500 different scientific journals at that time. So the research sunk into oblivion.

Apparently, this research (and others on the topic) just had to wait its “time.”

Here are a few of today’s terms (from science) you may have heard: probiotics, the proteome (a set of proteins produced in an organism, system, or biological context) and intestinal macrobiotics (that’s the quality of internal “soup” that influences quality of life). If these terms all sound a bit “biological,” that’s okay.

But, here is why you should care: The number one determiner of your health is NOT your brain, but the health of the pathways from your mouth to your anus (ok, your butt). Every food you eat, every nutrient that is digested, the overall health of your intestines (your extended gut) and the absorption of nutrients (or lack of it), as well as your bowel movements are running your health and talking to your brain. When you “feel funny” it is often your “gut” talking to you.

I first learned about this from a breathtakingly fresh book back in 1998 by Michael Gershon, called “The Second Brain.” Although Gershon was a neurobiologist, he specialized in neurogastroenterology.

That’s the “science of the gut.” His books showed why and how we often think, feel, and react based on a different organ than our brain; it’s the science of the “gut instinct.”

What You Should Know

Probiotics are agents (dietary/nutritional supplements, drugs, and medical foods). The most common one you may have heard of is yogurt. All probiotics contain live microorganisms, which can provide a genuine health benefit to the user (you). Some are just better quality (greater usage rate in the gut) than others. Probiotics are the subject of increasing basic, clinical, and practical research, while also being incorporated into an expanding array of foods, nutritional supplements, and pharmaceutical products globally.


The “mix” in your intestinal system influences your energy levels, immune system, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, common infectious diseases; it impacts irritable bowel syndrome, vaginal infections, risk of inflammation, upper respiratory tract infections, and more. In short, it is how you feel.

That should be enough to get your attention.

PART TWO: What You Can Do

Let’s start with the brain and probiotics connection. Here are strong “probiotic” foods: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, miso soup, pickles, soft cheeses (e.g. Gouda), Kombucha Tea, sourdough bread, and ocean-based plants such as spirulina, chorella, and blue-green algae.

ACTION STEP: Pick one, use it for a month. Then, pick another one, use last month’s probiotic PLUS the new one for a month.

Now, if you really want to have amazing health, here are five simple (but powerful) myths to dispel and the right things you can do.

1. MYTH: Eating and sleep are unrelated.

TRUTH: Eating and sleep are closely related. As you age, hormone fluctuations mess with your sleep schedule. But three hormones, ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol, influence appetite.

When you do not get enough rest, ghrelin rises, which increases hunger. Leptin, which promotes feelings of fullness, drop. But wait—it gets worse! Less sleep promotes increases in cortisol, which promote a lust for “comfort foods”: those high fat bombshells that sink your day. Get 6-8 hours a night and weight will begin to re-regulate itself.

The light from digital screens in the evening alters sleepiness and alertness, and suppresses melatonin levels. STOP all computer, tablet, or phone activity past 8pm. Help your brain produce melatonin in the evening through the use consistent “bedtime routines.” Melatonin has been shown to fight cancer in at least three distinct ways: 1) Melatonin interferes with the way that estrogen promotes cancer growth; 2) Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that destroys damaged cells that might become the start of a cancer; 3) Melatonin interferes with the metabolism of linoleic acid (cancer’s favorite food) by cancer cells. You can purchase “sleep-better, blue-light blocking glasses OR filtering screens for your devices if you are unable to top using them.

To get more sleep each night, also do the following. Finish all your evening eating by 7pm at the latest each night. Ensure you get healthy fats in your evening foods. No snacking after 7pm; that means zero evening snacking. Do your 15 minute workouts each day between 4-6pm, so that feel tired, I mean really tired. Eat the bulk of your day’s carbohydrates in the evening. But eat complex carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, brown rice, and not simple ones like French fries). Have one glass of wine or beer, but not more. (Motivala SJ, Tomiyama AJ, Ziegler M, Khandrika S, Irwin MR. 2009)

2. MYTH: Stop snacking.

TRUTH: Make healthy snacking easier and better. WHAT??? Yes, it’s true. You can eat nearly all you want … but only of certain foods. So make them easy to get and easy to eat. It’s much more expensive to buy a package of pre-cut celery and carrots. They charge DOUBLE the price compared to raw celery or carrots in bulk. BUT, if you actually eat them for snacking, you’ll end up saving the money by eating less junky, pre-packaged, high-fat convenience foods.

Kefir and pickles are probiotics. Vegetables are a great snack. You say you want snacks that are more filling? Eat small servings of mixed nuts as a snack. Why? You get better satiation (feeling full) and you’re likely to eat less at mealtime. Nuts have fats (the good ones, the plant fats). I make my own high fat coconut bars (coconut meat plus protein) and enjoy them often. Feeling hungry? Just drink an extra glass of water twice a day, during snack time.

As you know, the artificial sweeteners you avoid (like high fructose corn syrup) are well known to be linked to obesity, not to getting skinny! So are soft drinks, so drink them either less often or never.

3. MYTH: Eat desserts at home, not in a restaurant (to save money).

TRUTH: Saving money makes you fat—eat desserts at restaurants. A new study sheds light on this. Read this: “Hedonic foods trigger the analgesic functions to defend eating from ending.”


The fatty food restaurant foods induce a “brainstem-mediated defense” (they make you feel no pain) of the consumption of palatable foods. (Foo H, Mason P. 2009). It makes overeating tasty foods almost irresistible even in the face your will power.

In short, “comfort foods” keep you well above feeling badly and put you in a numbing euphoria. That feeling, plus the “social high” of friends fuels more chemical releases.

The new, higher serotonin or dopamine may induce one to eat more because you feel good about yourself. How can you combat that?

You can’t easily do it, so make that your one treat for the week or month and enjoy! But at home, never keep big sweets (ice cream, pie, cake, cobbler, etc.) around. NEVER buy hedonic foods for home storage. Make ice cream (Dryers, Bryers, Ben and Jerry and Hagen-Daz, etc.), as well as every other goody, something you have go out to get.

It’s OK to treat yourself weekly or monthly. But any more than that and you have got a problem! Do not store any comfort foods in your home.

(Confession: I do buy and eat dark chocolates for dessert occasionally. They are, in fact, probiotics).

4. MYTH: Eating is physical.

TRUTH: It’s all in your brain (and gut)! Re-train your system to ignore or postpone hunger. What are the signs of eating addiction? They are a “loss of control” over your eating and addictions will start to affect your overall well-being.

Start behavior changes by using mind over body strategies.

For example, when you get slightly hungry (plus a little stress), your brain says, “Search for food and eat!” The next time that happens, say to yourself, “I do notice I’m a bit hungry. But I won’t die. Maybe a glass of water would be good. I can wait until I can eat some healthy foods later.”

Do this over and over and over, week after week. The more you train your brain, the better you’ll get at ignoring your hunger signals. It’s brain training, like an brain boot camp.

5. MYTH: It’s all about SELF-CONTROL.

TRUTH: Changing habits is not always fun. The things you work at the most and best are the things most worth doing.

Sometimes the issue is NOT will power. You may wish you had better “self-control” over your eating habits. Actually, many of the new researchers tell us it may be more a matter of strategy and mindset instead. Read “The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal.

One strategy is MAKE IT EASIER TO SUCCEED than to fail at it. For example, do you currently have 3-4 healthy snacks in your fridge or cupboard? If not, you’ll likely eat junk foods. Have you cleaned out (and donated or given away) all your junk foods? If not, why not? In short, make it EASIER to eat well than it is to eat badly.

Eating well is MUCH easier when I eat the foods that I know are good for me. Pickles, cheese and dark chocolate are great snacks.

Be sure to move your body daily. Have you made it easy to exercise? If it is not easy to START EXERCISING, you are not likely to do it. For example, I love to swim and surf. If the surf’s down, I swim. But I have noticed that just a 2 or 3-degree difference in the pool temperature is all it takes for me to say the water’s either too chilly or “just right.”

Now I know it’s all in my head, but I have simply made it SO easy for myself to swim (and I do it 5-7 days a week). I keep the pool just warm enough for me to NEVER hesitate. Make exercising so ridiculously easy, so that you are willing to do it 5-6 days a week.

And don’t exercise for 30 minutes or more (unless you are just having fun). Do 10-14 minutes of intense (fast and hard work) exercise, then cool down and call it a day. Intensity is as, or more, important, than duration (unless you’re a athlete prepping for events.

BONUS: Avoid ever, ever feeling GUILTY for making food mistakes or failing to exercise. That’s the worse emotion for making changes. If you mess up, forgive yourself and MOVE ON.

GET LEVERAGE on yourself. In other words, get help in succeeding. Here’s how: go to the website (notice the spelling, with two “Ks” in the word). This site will help you set up rewards and, yes, even consequences for messing up on this summer’s health plan. Make this a “no excuses” summer. Why? You can have the “body of your life” if you make it important enough.

NOTE: So, is it really my genes that make me skinny? I’m sure they play a part in it all. But let’s review. I am a fanatic for getting my 6-8 hours of sleep every night! I snack carefully. I eat nuts and healthy smoothies for snacks. I avoid ALL artificial sweeteners. I have learned to notice my hunger, then to postpone my eating. I work out nearly every day. I don’t feel guilty when I don’t obey my rules. This all puts me back in charge of my health.

One MORE thing.

I would love to get feedback from you on how you are doing on each of these newsletter topics. Send me feedback each month and I will see if I can find something to add to YOUR life. I am at

Your partner in learning,

Eric Jensen
President, CEO, Jensen Learning Corp


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Bray GA, Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. (2004) Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity. Am J Clin Nutr. 79, 537-43.

Chang AM, Aeschbach D, Duffy JF, Czeisler CA. (2015). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.;112,1232-7.

Foo H, Mason P. (2009) Analgesia accompanying food consumption requires ingestion of hedonic foods. J Neurosci. 29,13053-62

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Sanders, M. E., Guarner, F., Guerrant, R., Holt, P. R., Quigley, E. M., Sartor, R. B., … Mayer, E. A. (2013). An update on the use and investigation of probiotics in health and disease. Gut, 62, 787–796

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  1. Tab W Erickson

    Thanks Eric. I get a lot of great advice (both teaching and healthy living) from you. Keep up the good work!

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