The study of gastrointestinal hormones—the hormones produced by the stomach and intestines—has turned into a very exciting area of research. The system regulating your weight and its subsequent health effects is far more complicated than we once thought. It is an intertwining system that involves complex feedback and feed-forward loops among your gut, your fat cells, and your brain.
Let’s explore how the actions of the hormones produced by your gastrointestinal tract play an important and active role in the signals that regulate your weight and health.
Dozens of the many natural chemicals produced by your gastrointestinal tract can potentially help you reach, or keep you from reaching, your health goals. They have weird names like peptide YY, ghrelin, and CCK. You don’t need to know all the gory details about how they work, but understanding the basics of a few of the most important hormones will give you what you need to know.
Peptide YY (also known as pancreatic peptide YY 3-36—see what I mean about gory details?) is produced by your small intestine. When you eat a meal, especially a meal that has fat and protein in it, peptide YY is released into your bloodstream and gets carried to your brain. It is one of the pathways that tells your brain you’re full and don’t need to eat any more. Peptide YY also works within the digestive tract by slowing down the speed of the digestive process. Again, that makes you feel full and you stop eating.
Does this sound familiar? Like leptin, peptide YY works through the hypothalamus and the reward pathways to promote changes that make you feel more satisfied by your food. You therefore eat less, while, importantly, feeling less hungry.
The hormone ghrelin, produced by cells in the lining of your stomach, is responsible for making you feel hungry. (It also stimulates the release of growth hormone, something I’ll discuss more in the chapter on the importance of sleep.) When your stomach is empty, ghrelin is released and sends a message to the brain saying you’re hungry. When your stomach is full, ghrelin release stops and you stop feeling hungry.
Not all of your gastrointestinal hormones work primarily by being messengers to your brain. Incretins, another type of gastrointestinal hormone, directly affect the all- important insulin system. Two types of incretin hormones are of particular interest to us. They have long names that we can conveniently shorten to GLP-1 and GIP. These two incretins are secreted only in response to food. They send signals to your pancreas to release insulin into your bloodstream in advance of the rise in blood sugar that will happen later, as the glucose from your food is absorbed. This actually helps lower your blood sugar after a meal.
Incretins also slow the emptying of your stomach so nutrient absorption is more efficient. When your stomach empties more slowly, you feel full sooner and your blood sugar doesn’t spike up as much, which in turn means you don’t need to pump out as much insulin to carry it away. Because you want to keep your insulin level down, you can see why this is so helpful. As you might expect, having good levels of incretin hormones has been proven to lead to weight loss.
What if you could harness the power of your gastrointestinal tract hormones to your advantage? You can, and that is exactly what the YOU%2B nutritional plan does. You will learn what and when to eat to get the most out of these advantages. And best of all, you will learn how to succeed without starving yourself or counting calories.
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