Have you ever “felt butterflies in your stomach” or had a “gut feeling?” We use these phrases, and others relating to our gut frequently in our life but have you ever wondered why? It turns out that our gut is really a sort of a second brain. In the lining of your gut there are many nerve plexi (a fancy word for clusters of nerve cells), adding up to over 100 million neurons, which is more than in the spinal cord and all the nerves running outward from it. These clusters function as little mini-brains, formally known as the enteric nervous system. The mini-brains pump out many of the same molecules as the big brain. As much as 95% of the serotonin in your body is made by your gut! This alone gives good reason why when your gut is feeling crummy your emotions are often strongly affected too and vice versa. Even the thought of food can trigger your gut to start churning out all sorts of digestive juices. It has often been noted that people with digestive problems also had psychological problems, but this does NOT mean that it is all in your head! However, treating the mind through counseling, stress reduction techniques, or other healing methods has been shown in studies to significantly improve digestive function.
Naturopaths, when in doubt with a case, have traditionally fallen on two chronic causes of disease- the liver and the gut. “Treat the liver, treat the gut, they will get better!” This holds true especially for mental/emotional problems. Studies have shown that the largest nerve running between the brain and the gut consists of 90% information flowing from gut to brain. Obviously, what your gut feels can influence how your brain feels! This has also shown to be true with anti-depressant treatment as a common side effect of SSRIs, which increase serotonin, can cause irritable bowel syndrome. Autism has also been associated with altered serotonin levels, and autistic individuals often have gut complaints. There is currently great interest into understanding this ever extending field, and new research supports the hypothesis that the trillions of bacteria in our gut directly “communicate” with our mini-brains which in turn strongly affect our big brains. It just makes sense that the organ responsible for absorbing all of our nutrition also strongly affects every other aspect of our being, especially emotions and brain function. Does this mean that intestinal cramping is akin to a gut migraine? One day science may agree! Until then, we must respect our guts and treat them with care as it will likely make you feel better emotionally too!
No author listed, based upon a Harvard Medical School Special Health Report, http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-gut-brain-connection
Gerson, MD. Current Opionions in Endocrine, Diabetes, and Obesity. 5-hydroxytrptamine (serotonin) in the gastrointestinal tract. Feb, 2013. 20(1): 14-21.
Hadhazy, Adam. Scientific American Website. Feb. 12, 2010 http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/