Gut Feelings–The Brain in Your Intestines

Gut Feelings–the Brain in your Intestines

I read this several years ago and finally dug it out of my library and reread it. I found it thoroughly fascinating and would like to hear your feedback on this.

It’s taken from the book “Patient Heal Thyself” by Jordan S. Rubin, N.M.D., C.N.C.

See what you think:

Your gut, the dictionary says, is “the basic visceral or emotional part of a person…It turns out that our gut and our brain originate in embryogenesis from a clump of tissue called the neural crest, which appears and divides during fetal development. While one section turns into the central nervous system, another piece migrates to become the enteric nervous system, and thus form both thinking machines. Only later are the two nervous systems connected via a cable called the vagus nerve, the longest of all the cranial nerves whose name is derived from Latin, meaning “wandering”. In keeping with its etymological origins, the vagus nerve meanders from the brain stem through organs in the neck and thorax and finally ends up in the abdomen. There’s the brain-gut connection.

So profoundly influential is the state of the gut upon people’s health that I have coined the term–it’s a tongue twister–gastro-neuro-immunology to try and capture the essence of the link between our two brains and even our immune function.

It is from a healthy gut that we enjoy neurological and psychological as well as immunological health. This is not to discount the important mass of gray between our ears-the human brain. This is simply to say that the body has two brains–the brain we all know between our ears and the second brain, our gut.

No wonder we talk so much about gut feelings. No wonder we tell people to trust their gut.

Are we living too much in our head? Should we think with our gut? Did you know that one half of all our nerve cells are located within the gut? Did you know that our capacity of feeling and emotional expression depends primarily on the gut and, to a lesser extent, the brain?

Have you ever wondered why people get butterflies in the stomach before going on stage? Or why an impending job interview can cause an attack of intestinal cramps? And why do antidepressants targeted for the brain cause nausea or abdominal upset in millions of people who take such drugs? The reason for these common experiences is because each of us literally has two brains–the familiar one encased in our skulls and a less-known but vitally important one found in the human gut. Like Siamese twins, the two brains are interconnected, when one gets upset, the other does, too.

The gut’s brain, known as the enteric nervous system (ENS) is located in sheaths of tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. It contains a complex circuitry that enables it to act independently, learn, remember and, as the saying goes, produce gut feelings, according to The New York Times January 23, 1996 by Sandra Blakeslee.

In his second book The Second Brain (Harper Collins 1998), Dr. Michael Gershon, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia-Presbytarian Medical Center in New York City, dubs the entire gastrointestinal system the body’s second nervous system.

“The brain is not the only place full of neurotransmitters,” says Gershon. “A hundred milion neurotransmitters line the length of the gut, aproximately the same number that is found in the brain.”..The brain in the bowel has got to work right or no one will have the luxury to think at all. ”

Many major neurotransmitters that until recently were usually associated with the brain, such as serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine and nitric oxide, we know now to be found in plentiful amounts in the gut–as are major cells of the immune system. Enkephalins, one class of the body’s natural opiates, are plentiful in the gut. And in a finding that confounds many researchers, the gut is a rich source of benzodiazepines–the family of psychoactive chemicals that includes such ever-popular drugs as Valium and Xanax, reports Blakeslee.

The brain and gut are so much alike that during sleep both have natural 90 minute cycles..patients with bowel problems tend to have abnormal REM sleep. And we know that indigestion can cause nightmares.

Many drugs designed to affect the brain also affect the gut. For example, the gut is loaded with the neurotransmitter serotonin. In fact, more serotonin is produced there than anywhere else in the body. Serotonin is linked to the initiation of peristalsis….and Prozac is used to treat chronic constipation.

..Michael Loes, M.D., author of the book The Healing Response says “Both brains can be addicted to opiates”.

Our gut also helps us in some amazing ways. The gut also produces chemicals called benzodiazepines. Thee are the same chemicals found in antianxiety drugs like Valium, and these are the same chemicals that alleviate pain. Perhaps our gut is truly our body’s anxiety and pain reliever. No wonder why when we’re anxious we tend to overeat. Perhaps our body is trying to produce extra benzodiazepines.

While we are not sure whether the gut synthesizes benzodiazepine from chemicals in our foods, bacterial actions, or both, we know that in times of extreme pain, the gut goes into overdrive, delivering bezodiazepine to the brain. The result is to render the patient unconscious or at least reduce the pain, says Dr. Anthony Basile, a neurochemist n the Neuroscience Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Many things can wreak havoc on gastrointestinal health. Vaccinations, milk contaminated with Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, indiscriminate use of antibiotics and poor diet…(add to that list grains, all animal foods, other pharmaceutical drugs, etc–note added by Michele)

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