The decision to reach for a slice pizza instead of a bowl of salad is the result of a multitude of conscious and subconscious influences. Surprisingly, hunger plays a comparatively small role. An ingested morsel stimulates receptors throughout the alimentary canal. Once stimulated, these receptors send information back to the brain about the numerous sensory qualities of foods consumed. Thus, my overall research goal is to identify which parts of the digestive track send these signals to the brain and the relative contribution of each of these signals in driving our preference for different foods.
Your Gut Has a Mind of Its Own: The Contribution of Our ‘2nd brain’ to Our Food Choices
Sensory signals that result from the ingestion of food.
For my research purposes, I divide these signals into two broad classes: Oral (sensory signals that result from stimulation of receptors through mastication) and post-oral (sensory signals that result from the digestion of ingested food). This categorization allows me to explore the relative contribution of these two sources of sensory information in driving the preference for different foods. Further, because past experiences can modulate many of these signals, I am also interested in the role of learning in these sensory processes.
Taste and viscerosensory (gut) signals converge in the n. solitary tract (nTS).
My current research addresses three main questions:
- Are sensory signals from the tongue necessary for the preference for different nutrients?
- What is the nature of the sensory information that the gut sends to the brain about ingested nutrients? In other words, can only nutrients that the body needs (e.g. those that have ‘nutritive value’) generate gut signals that are sent to the brain?
- Where do these two sources of information (oral and post- oral) converge in the brain?