food. who’s in control?

The question: Can gut microbes influence our eating behavior?

Veronica sends a short list of the food and drink she particularly enjoys (and on occasion craves).  Meanwhile I figure out the composition.  I weigh choice and consequence.

Microbiome. Healthy food / Unhealthy food. I weigh the food that feeds good microbes and promotes health (plant-based, fiber-rich) against the food that feeds bad microbes and supports dysbiosis (microbial imbalances that drive disease).

A few things I learn along the way: Less diversity of the microbes in our gut can lead a person to obesity. A healthy microbiome can protect us from infection and disease and produces vitamins (B12 and K).

I know (cuz I draw) there is limited space in the gut. I also know microbes complete for the space. Microbes use it = Microbes use us.  Microbes compete with each other and they compete with us (their host) for space and resources.

What if each and every individual’s gut microbes have needs and wants of their own ? This sort of changes the picture, doesn’t it? And you thought self-control (or lack of) was the main thing driving your food choice and intake.

This whole thing starts to make a little more sense as I draw and paint the food on Veronica’s list, into the composition. I can’t help but think about all the apartments going up in Phoenix and all the growing city traffic. Microbes, like Phoenicians, might be trying to figure out how to survive and thrive in dense environment. #competition

Below are some of the images and notes I post into social media. And as usual…the food pulls in the people (comment threads, not included, were interesting to read).

Pepsi 🥤 has 41g of sugar (and 38mg of caffeine). A Snickers bar 🍫 has 27g of sugar and 14g of fat. Who do you think craves sugars and fats more? You or the microbes  that live in ur gut? #Conflict between #host (you and me) and #microbe (our bugs!). #obesity

I read somewhere that the grilled cheese🧀 🥪  might be the most popular sandwich in the world. 😮 Could this be true!? You tell me. They always remind me of my grandmother who used to take me to a local diner to enjoy one. She loved ❤️ a good grilled cheese 🧀 🥪 . All I’m going to say is that they change your gut flora. All dairy changes the gut flora. It has something to do w short chain fatty acids (lipids). Do your microbes 🦠 love 🧀 🥪?? I bet some of them do. #oozycheese btw…all food changes the gut flora. #bread and #butter #noprocessedcheese

I wrote about the benefits of 🥑 in my last study and they’re plenty. In this current study about obesity and microbes 🦠 – things get complicated. 🥑 are unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). It feels to me like the benefit might be unique to each individual depending on their gut microbes. 🥑 satiate and if everything is balanced they can suppress hunger and increase meal satisfaction. But if it’s true that microbes 🦠 can hijack our neuronal systems 😮 and our 🧠 brain (I 👂 they can!) well then this changes things. Do microbes 🦠 compete w us for food and energy? It’s the question here. Anyway- I ❤️ 🥑. #appetitehormones #WhoIsInCharge? Is there anyone who doesn’t love a good guacamole?!

🥩 The art of the red meat 🥩 (in this case medium rare). What if 🥩 red meant promoted the growth of bad 🦠 bacteria? And what if we benefitted from eating less of it? This is how I 👁 it (as I ✏️ it). Think about the space in your gut 🤔. It’s limited, right? And tunneled and narrow and twisty turny… Why would we put something hard to digest into our gut to take up space (for a good amount of time) when we can eat more fiber-rich and plant-based 🌱 food that promoted microbes beneficial to our gut? Things could move easily, quickly, take the turns smoothly…or not. Just something light and easy to think about. 🤔 WhatKind? HowMuch? HowOften?

Clementines. 🍊 Oranges! Fruits feed good bacteria 🦠 . 🍊 🍊🍊 in particular have some sort of soluble fiber our gut bacteria 🦠 ferments. One of the byproducts of this process is a fatty acid called #butyrate. Butyrate helps maintain the cells that line our GI tract. And that’s a good thing! You know the soluble fiber is mostly in the stuff that divides the segments of the orange…so eat them all up. Good stuff! #ShortChainFattyAcid #VitaminC #AnOrangeTreeGrowsInPhoenix 🍊🦠

The last thing I draw on the list is 🍺. Veronica likes a German wheat beer called Hefeweizen. I played w the logo Hefe and turned it into the word Jefa. #Jefa, Spanish slang indicating the female #boss.  She is! Ok, now back to the microbes…🤔 Who craves the 🍺? You? or your microbes 🦠? Which microbes? #VitamiminB #Polyphenols Your body lets you know. #OrDysbiosis

Do microbes influence your eating behavior?

#obesity #microbiome  #conflict #cooperation



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gut. brain.

What do you visualize when you read the phrase Gut-Brain Axis? Or Brain-Gut Connection?

I picture very active brains communicating with very active intestines. Or is it the other way around? Both. It’s a two-way, busy connect especially when you consider the wandering nerve, aka, the vagus nerve. Think: 2-way, information highway. The vagus nerves are paired cranial nerves (CN X) and happen to be my favorite of all the nerves.  Because it is the longest nerve in the body it moves alongside heart and lungs and goes through all the organs of the digestive tract, connecting brain to gut.

I enjoy the challenge of capturing Veronica’s likeness while I work her profile.  I organize and sketch in the brain. The small area of my drawing is detailed into a collaged map of El Paso,TX,  where my cousin lives.

I have fun with the photo ↑ and strategically place color pencils to direct attention to the brainstem, the area of the brain I am working to understand.  I imagine the space to be like a facility loaded with chemicals and chemical messengers / hormones and neurotransmitters. Think: Food intake. Signals and controls. Many and complex. (FYI – purple pencil points to vagus nerve start.)

Some of the hormones involved include adipoectin (a protein hormone that modulates glucose regulation and fatty acid oxidation), and leptin (made by fat cells and decreases appetite).

Veronica, during our initial conversation, noted ghrelin. Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates appetite. If I understand correctly, it is primarily released in the stomach and signals hunger to the brain. It also plays a role in determining how quickly hunger returns after a meal. And it promotes fat storage. After my surgery, she says, no more ghrelin. No more! What does this mean?  Forever? I ask.  I don’t know, she answers. And now you eat because??
I must live!
Ah…survival!

Side note: The hormones that play a role in obesity, do they also play a role in anorexia?

I haven’t brought the microbiome in yet. But I will. Now when I hear gut-brain, I also think of microbes.  FYI…they can influence hunger and satiety.

Anyway…I’m still laying ground work…which is both complicated to figure out and complicated to draw. Both my brain and my hands are keeping busy.

One more thing…
In early posts I highlight the brown adipose tissue (BAT) and the white adipose tissue (WAT). Now I study and set in subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) located under the skin and visceral adipose tissue (VAT).

In the image above, ↑ I enhance (darker area) the greater omentum (cool name! for an organ) , an example of VAT. It looks like lace, doesn’t it?  This apron of fatty tissue, connective tissue and lymphatics,  comes down from the stomach and stretches over the intestines. The greater omentum, aka, Policeman of the abdomen, might just be the first line of defense against toxins or infections (microbes).

BTW…yes, there is also a lesser omentum…

Meanwhile… drawing circles/making connections.


Keeping a note:
Amylin is a hormone, co-stored and co-secreted with insulin in response to nutrients. It promotes satiety by mediating brain function, including appetite inhibition.

Amylin also plays a role in neural regeneration. It helps regulate glucose metabolism and modulates inflammation. I pull it aside and note it here because of a possible link to Alzheimer’s Disease (Type II Diabetes).

no woman is an island

August 2016
Joe: I took a photo of your work last year at the Sky Harbor exhibit. May I ask your permission to use the artwork for my class on evolution and medicine at the University of New Mexico and on the blog that I use for the class: EvolutionMedicine.com?

Me: Thank you for asking. I received my MFA at NMSU…I have great affinity for New Mexico.

Portrait of Sara, Head in Profile, Arms Akimbo (detail)

February 2018
Joe: I’m in Tempe today through Saturday. I hope to visit the UofA Med school gallery while I am here. Are you available tomorrow around noon? Or Saturday?

Saturday afternoon, almost 1-1/2 years after the initial email – I meet Joe (and his mom!) at the Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix.

Joe is a practicing emergency physician and teaches at University of New Mexico Department of Emergency Medicine. He is also program chair for the International Society for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health. He wants to see my work and he wants to discuss using some of my compositions on the organization’s website. He invites me to attend their annual meeting this August in (beautiful) Park City, Utah. I appreciate the opportunity (curiosity stirred) but I cannot commit to the latter. Spending the last month working on applications for exhibition opportunities including a summer artist residency, I feel too many unknowns to set the plan in motion. He understands.

The three of us walk the exhibit and eventually come to Portrait of Sara ↑. At the time I work on the study, I explain as I point to the upper right corner of the composition, I learn about the cranial nerves. The vagus nerve, in particular, catches my attention because it is also known as the wandering nerve.

Joe’s face registers recognition and I glimpse excitement. I am in the habit of explaining the details of my work to people but perhaps in a medical education environment, I don’t need to explain so much. It is at this point that Joe brings up the microbiome. I’ve heard of the brain-gut connect, I say. He nods and clarifies gut-brain axis. I think about what I understand… It relates to the vagus nerve, yes? By the time the afternoon is over, I know the human microbiome is of great interest to him.

We talk about a few things including evolution medicine. But what stands out is when Joe connects body and environment.  I don’t write them down so I can’t quote his words, basically he brings up the construction happening across the valley.  What is occurring here, apartment building on top of apartment building – not a good thing for our microbiome. Being in nature and with animals, including living with our pets (the natural world) – supports the human microbiome.

We are a system of connecting parts.

Notes on the Complexity of the Brain, Mixed media and collage on paper, 8×8″

We sit at a table across from two of my small mixed-media portraits (studies of the brain). Joe says… I want that one. You do?!  He appreciates the techie quality. I nod…those are motherboard elements.


To know more about what Joe Alcock teaches visit→ EvolutionMedicine.com.
And → @JoeAlcockMD #tweets #microbiome and #evolution. And #phage.
When they refer to it (phage) on Science Friday (like they did this last week) – I enjoy knowing what it means! Information takes hold in small ways. 

Thank you so much Joe.


The blog posts titled No Woman is an Island acknowledge the people and/or organizations who support me and the work I do.

On a side note:
Did you know today is Day 3 of Brain Awareness Week. It is!
Notified that I did receive the artist residency, this summer I will spend 12 weeks at the Tempe Center for the Arts. I plan to study and draw the human brain.