Have you ever heard of the concept that the gut is the second brain?
It has become a popular concept in the health world. However, many people still aren’t fully informed what the term “second brain” means. Simply stated, the stomach/digestive tract is directly linked to your brain by a nerve called the vagus nerve. This nerve helps you remain calm, controls your breathing pattern, aids in digestion, and helps with your emotional state. The digestive tract- stomach, small intestine, and colon have over 100 million nerves lining the entire tract. That is about as many nerves as you would find in the brain of a small animal. Not only that, the digestive tract contains as many neurons as the spinal cord! It has its own intrinsic nervous system, which means it can operate on its own behalf, it has its own “mind”.
The gut has the ability to receive signals from the brain, but also to send messages to the brain. Think of “butterflies in your stomach”, this is not your brain speaking to your stomach, but the gut speaking to the brain. If you ever get nervous in a stress response, the body will pull blood away from the digestive tract and push it to the muscles of your arms or legs to run or fight a problem. When you get the butterflies, it’s the stomach’s way of saying, “I need that blood to operate, stop worrying!” The whole body acts as one. The digestive tract can send info to the brain to let the brain know what to do in relation to diet, food selection, stress, toxins, and infections. The brain needs as much help from the stomach as the stomach needs help from the brain. They send signals back and forth constantly.
To understand it a little easier: When you eat, your stomach can stretch up to 30-40 times its natural size to hold the food. Old theories of digestion taught that stretch receptors signaled to the brain to stop eating and let you know you are full. But that isn’t fully the case, now they have found that a chemical called PYY is released when the “second brain” senses that full capacity is being reached. It takes twenty minutes for the digested food to reach the small intestine area of the digestive tract, and the hormone PYY is released. If you eat too quickly, you will not give your food enough time to reach the small intestine to signal back to the brain that you are full. You will over-eat as a result, which is why eating slowly is key in weight loss.
Allowing time for your food to digest is key. Remember, the body will divert usually 1/3 of your blood supply to your digestive tract after eating. If you do not rest or give your body a chance to digest, you will stress your body because it has to take that vital blood supply used for digesting food to going back to work or play. This in turn will hinder proper food breakdown and nutrient uptake, which can lead to a myriad of other issues.
You see how basic digestion has to work in order for you to uptake nutrients. I’ll follow up this article soon and show how the mind and brain rely on the gut to function properly!
As you can see, you’ve got to balance your gut to balance your brain!
Until Next time, be well!
– Dr. Motley