The Gut as a Second Brain


By Nancy Smorch

What may be news to some has been common knowledge to others for quite some time - that the gut functions as a second “brain.” It is a relatively new area of research, and an exciting one, if you ask me (Personally, I believe there are actually three “brains,” when you include the heart!).

The enteric nervous system (ENS) is what is more commonly referred to as the gut’s brain. It lies in the tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon, and contains over 100 million neurons – more than that of the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. 

One interesting finding in this area of study, known as neurogastroenterology, is that nearly every substance that controls the brain is also found in the gut -neurotransmitters such as seratonin, dopamine, glutamate, and norepinephrine, to name a few.

Another interesting discovery is the abundance in the gut of a family of psychoactive chemicals that are found in Valium and Xanax... Hmmm.

Also interesting is that much of the communication between the gut and the brain originates in the gut - which has huge implications for psychological issues.  Communication, of course, moves both ways - it goes from the brain to the gut as well, but the fact that the gut is having an effect on the activity of the brain provides hope for those effected by mental imbalances - heal the gut, and hopefully heal the mind.

What does this mean?

It means that the health of your gut is extremely important, and relevant to your overall health. This is both good news and bad news.

Why is it good news? Because it helps shed light on the possible connection between your intestinal health and a number of mental- and brain-related illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, autism, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer's, just for starters. Heal your gut and you have a much better chance of preventing or healing a number of other ailments!

Why is this bad news? Because our gastrointestinal (GI) system has, unfortunately, been the brunt of a number of assaults. Take, for example, the overuse of antibiotics in humans. This abuse has stripped the GI system of good bacteria.

Even in those who don’t take antibiotics find that antibiotics still make their way to the intestinal system by the food they eat—animals raised with antibiotics to counteract the unsanitary and unhealthy conditions in which they are raised.

You may recall an earlier post on glyphosate, the chemical routinely used in the pesticides. Glyphosate also attacks the good bacteria in the intestinal system. You can read that post about the dangers of glyphosate in Monsanto products here.

Make sure you take special care of your gut!

It’s fair to assume that your gut is in need of healing, with so many foods and products on the market and on the earth that are attacking this system.

Chances are, if you are not experiencing any symptoms now, you can prevent a number of illness and conditions down the road by making sure your gut is in good health now.

I can speak from first-hand experience: when my intestinal tract isn’t working properly, my mind isn’t nearly as focused and clear. When I took gluten, which was creating inflammation in my intestines, out of my diet, I experienced greater clarity in my “regular brain.”

I’m not where I would like to be yet, in terms of my intestinal health. I think there is still some more healing that needs to take place, but with each step in this direction, I’m learning new fascinating things and putting more pieces of the puzzle together - and that’s fun for me!

My latest tool for this research is Dr. Michael Gershon’s book, The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine.

The light bulbs are starting to go off in the scientific community… and as more light is shed on this issue, I will be sharing it with all of you!