A Tribute to Dale and a Tale of the Belly

“Creativity is the way to progress but as long as people’s bellies are not full, nothing will change.” -Dale Massiasta

Dale was one of my mentors while I was living in Ghana and doing field research on Traditional Medicine and its use in HIV/AIDS treatment.  Dale was a great mind.  He was one of a kind, an innovator, and a person who could and would take the heat for his endeavors.  He founded a museum dedicated to the tribal history of the region, he lectured and guided students, and he served as a mentor for his community.  His community, far and wide, will always remember him for what he gave of himself.

I can’t help but think of Dale and his words as I step back and continue to question everything that I’ve learned so far, as I continue to search through the research which is slowly beginning to uncover the presence of the mind throughout the body.  Dale’s words ring with more meaning than one as I consider the research that is currently underway on the enteric nervous system.

The enteric nervous system is the brain of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.  It contains more neurons than the spinal cord.  Dubbed “the second brain”, not only is it able to function on its own but it is actually the site for the production of 90% of the serotonin and 50% of the dopamine that exists in the body.  Other than these two neurotransmitters, it contains 30 other neurotransmitters as well.  This means that the neurotransmitters (responsible for communication between nerve cells) once attributed solely to the functioning of the brain are also playing a part in the GI tract and the overall health of the body.  There is a significant amount of research being performed in this area, specifically with the implications that it may have with regard to Parkinson’s disease, which arises from the deterioration of dopaminergic neurons in the brain.

Furthermore, this research is generating even more questions.  For instance: if these neurotransmitters are being released in your gut, what implications does this have for your mental and emotional health?   These questions are not new but there is now even more scientific basis for putting them forward.  Generally, the serotonin in the gut is chalked up to being responsible for regulating intestinal movements while the serotonin in the brain has a more diverse array of functions including reducing depressive illness.  However, researchers are probing into the question: Is it really that simple?  I recall reading a case study about a woman who had to have a section of her small intestine removed due to prolonged infection.  After the surgery, not only was her digestion significantly improved, but the depression from which she had been suffering for 40 years had disappeared.

This is not surprising news to many a holistic health care practitioner.  In Ayurvedic Medicine, for instance, digestion is the primary underlying pillar for health.  Without proper digestion, health of the body and mind are sacrificed.  If the digestive “fire” of the body is diminished, the tissues which compose the body are not produced and “life force” is depleted.  In Ayurved, the brain and the stomach/small intestine have a direct connection.  This is why, for example, it is important to eat your food with full concentration.  Otherwise, certain fluids necessary for the digestion of the food will not be secreted and digestion will be impaired.  In the case of Parkinson’s disease, the health of the digestive fire and “digestion” throughout the body is specifically implicated which is why so much of the therapy involved focuses on this specifically.  Optimal digestion is essential for optimal functioning, health, and performance.

Dale recognized that all people have within them the capacity for creativity, the capacity for promoting change, and the capacity for living an optimal life.  He saw the ability of his fellow Ghanaian people to take a stand against corruption (don’t make assumptions here… external corruption can also impact an internal state) and create a system which worked for everyone.  But he knew that as long as they did not have enough food, neither their focus, nor their energy could go into developing that system.  The state in which creativity, like optimal functioning, can ensue stems from the holistic state of your body-mind.

Thank you, Dale.

Food for thought: Who is your mentor and how are you going to make him/her smile?