Our gut instinct is rooted in an ancient internal food GPS system
A new study has revealed how your stomach can act as an internal global food positioning system, and the results could help shed insight on our gut instinct.
Humans are typically pretty good at remembering what we’ve eaten, especially if the meal was exceptionally good.
For example, if someone asked you to remember where you had the best burger of your life, you could probably tell them more than just the restaurant name.
A new study might have an explanation for this excellent memory recall, and it has to do with a gut instinct that dates back to our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors.
Researchers from the University of Southern California conducted the study which was published in the journal Nature Communications.
The researchers examined the vagus nerve in rats to see if there was any connection between the signals sent to an from the stomach and memory recall.
The vagus nerve is the body’s longest nerve and it sends messages to an from the brain to the gastrointestinal-tract.
There’s a possibility that the vagus nerve also directs signals to the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory.
The researchers think the roots of this gut-brain connection dates back to our ancient ancestors who would have relied on memories of abundant hunting and gathering sites.
“When animals find and eat a meal, for instance, the vagus nerve is activated and this global positioning system is engaged,” said Scott Kanoski, a corresponding author of the study. “It would be advantageous for an animal to remember their external environment so that they could have food again.”
For the study, the researchers severed the gut-brain vagus nerve pathway in some rats to see if that impacted the rat’s memory of its environment.
“We saw impairments in hippocampal-dependent memory when we cut off the communication between the gut and the brain,” said Andrea Suarez, the study’s lead author. “These memory deficits were coupled with harmful neurobiological outcomes in the hippocampus.”
The results show how the vagus nerve influences memory, and the researchers say that future studies should examine if bariatric surgeries could impact memory as these surgeries, although a proven solution to weight loss, block signals to and from the stomach.