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Gut instincts: How well do you know your ‘second brain’?

March 18, 2021

Ever had that sinking feeling when you just know that something’s about to go wrong? And what’s with the strange and fluttery sensation of butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous? The answer might surprise you, but thanks to research, it’s not as hard to believe. Now can you guess why your stomach reacts the way it does depending on various situations?

Because it’s thinking. 

“Thinking,” you might repeat with skepticism. And the answer is a loud and resounding yes! The gut, aptly named the enteric nervous system (since enteric means ‘relating to or occurring in the intestines’), is known as our second brain. Made up of this amazing network of neurons that extends across the entire length of the digestive tract—from your esophagus down to your stomach, intestines, and finally, your anus—the ENS does a lot of thinking for you right alongside the brain that’s in your head. 

What’s so wonderful about our ‘gut instinct’ is that it’s not just a “feeling” at all; aside from managing digestion using its own nervous system (while still communicating with the central one), the ENS relays important information about our gut straight to our brain that can influence things like our decisions, mood, and well-being. But what does this all mean and how does it help with our health exactly?

According to the Centre for Brain Health, accumulating evidence from studies indicate that “the gut is involved in brain health and disease.” For instance, neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and autism spectrum disorder are “correlated with gastrointestinal issues or altered gut microbiomes.” So any disruption in our gut health can trigger an immune response that leads to certain type of symptoms to manifest in the body. Therefore, understanding how the gut communicates with the brain, and how it controls the rest of the body’s other vital organs, can be instrumental in the discovery of breakthroughs for disease treatment. 

On top of all that, we can be thankful for the enteric nervous system for its usual assistance in our everyday lives. Case in point: the fight or flight response. When we feel danger, not only does it trigger our central nervous system, the ENS jumps into action too: it either slows down or completely stops digestion. In this way, our body’s energy can be diverted and used for more important things, in this case, focusing on the possibly dangerous situation at hand. 

The next time your gut instincts kick in, know that there’s more to the process than just intuition or nerves. It could also be what you had for breakfast—which is why eating healthy has never been as important as ever! So take good care of your gut because while you do, you’re taking care of the rest of your body too! 

 

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