The Second Brain
The digestive system, more commonly referred to as simply, the ‘gut’ is now also being called the ‘second-brain.’
Why, the second-brain?
Michael Gershon at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York, states that, “A lot of the information that the gut sends to the brain affects well-being, and doesn’t even come to consciousness.” There is a constant exchange of chemicals and electrical messages between the two systems. Nearly every chemical that controls the brain is also located in the gut, including hormones and neurotransmitters (chemicals that communicate information) such as Serotonin, GABA, Dopamine, Glutamate, and Norepinephrine. The gut contains 100 million neurons – more than the spinal cord!
So what is your gut, exactly?
Embedded in the wall of the gut is your ‘enteric nervous system’ (ENS), a term coined by the British physiologist Johannis Langley. The ENS can act with the brain or independently from the brain. If the main connection with the brain – the vagus nerve – is severed, the ENS remains capable of coordinating digestion. That’s really quite incredible.
Now, what does the gut do?
- It is responsible for the digestion of food
- Plays an important role in sensing environmental threats, and can influence your response. An example would be that your gut detects a bacteria or other pathogen and works with the brain to have you vomit or have diarrhea, to eliminate the threat.
- Your gut maintains the proper pH in different sections of the gut
- Approximately 75% of your immune system is in your gut.
What contributes to an unhealthy gut?
- Diets low in dietary fiber
- Antibiotics (they get rid of all the good bacteria as well as the bad) and Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS)
- Chronic Stress
- Diets high in refined carbohydrates and processed foods
- Consuming foods that you have a sensitivity to, such as wheat, corn, and other over-consumed foods
- Chronic infections
- Unhealthy fats, such as hydrogenated oil, trans-fats and damaged fats.
Gut health depends on the proper balance of bacteria, also known as gut flora, that inhabit the digestive tract. The gut flora is important to overall health and taking steps to ensure you have a balance of good bacteria to counter the bad will help maintain good digestion and health.
So what foods are good for gut health?
- Fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, kim chi, kefir and yogurt
- Kombucha-a fermented tea
- Miso Soup
- Omega 3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish, flax and hemp oil, and raw walnuts
- Coconut oil is anti-viral, and contains lauric, capric and capryllic acids, all good for gut health
- You may also take a probiotic to increase good bacteria in your gut.
- Well, it’s not a food, but it’s important to drink plenty of water.
What are lifestyles habits for a healthy gut?
- De-stress! Find something that helps you relieve stress. Simply taking deep breaths will help.
- Exercise keeps your gut moving, very good for gut health.
- Go outside! Not only is nature calming, but there are microbes in the air-and most of them are good for us.
Our second brain, with all of its complexities, is just now beginning to be understood. We may know much more in a short period of time, but for now, focus on increasing the ‘good’ bacteria in your gut, de-stress, and eat health-supporting foods most of the time.