Yes, you read that well. We have a second brain which is located in our gut.
Let’s talk about why it has this name and why we should keep it healthy.
This second brain is called the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS is made up of two thin layers that contain more than 100 million nerve cells. These cells line your gastrointestinal tract that runs from your esophagus all the way down to your rectum. This is what causes you to feel emotions like getting butterflies when you’re excited or nervous, and feeling sick to your stomach when scared or emotional.
The ENS communicates with your brain both physically and chemically, called the brain-gut connection or gut brain link. These connections that go back and forth travel along a pathway called the gut-brain axis. Your gut’s main connection to the brain is the vagus nerve. This nerve also controls messages that are sent to the heart, lungs, and other organs. Additionally, hormones and other neurotransmitters travel along the gut-brain axis to send messages chemically.
These chemical messages are affected by your gut’s microbiome. This consists of all of the fungi, viruses, and bacteria that live inside your gut. There are many different kinds inside of your gut, some of which can be beneficial or harmful to your health. Others have no impact at all.
The gut-brain axis isn’t just your brain and the ENS. This pathway also involves your endocrine system, immune system, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, microbiota and metabolites.
Experts and researchers are currently studying the gut-brain link and its effect on certain neurological conditions. As such, certain illnesses are now being researched to understand what’s going on in the gut that may cause these conditions – or at least play a part in their development (multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, etc.)
Some factors early on in life can affect the composition of your gut microbiota and the microbes found inside of it. This includes: mode of delivery during birth, infections, using antibiotics, nutrition or environmental stressors.
As you get older, the diversity of microbes in your gut goes down. High levels of stress at any time during your life also change the diversity of microbes in your gut.
The gut-brain link is what causes you to feel things like a fight or flight response and nervousness before giving a presentation. Many people deal with other conditions that affect their physical and gut health. If you feel things like anxiety or depression, this can cause intestinal distress, causing problems in the stomach or bowels. Because of the gut-brain link, the reverse can also be true — that your gut health is affecting your mental and physical health.
For a long time, doctors thought that anxiety and stress were the root cause of these gastrointestinal problems, but it’s actually now thought to be the opposite. Poor gut health can send signals to the central nervous system and influence your mood.
Be careful with your second brain. The first one will thank you.
Article submitted by the HPA Group