Why do we
get butterflies in our stomach before a performance?
indigestion produce nightmares?
antidepressants now also being used for gastrointestinal ailments?
It turns out that both our gut and our brain
originate early in embryogenesis from the same clump of tissue which divides
during fetal development. While one section turns into the central nervous
system, another piece migrates to become the enteric nervous system. Later the
two nervous systems connect via a cable called the vagus nerve -- the longest of
all the cranial nerves whose name is derived from Latin, meaning
"wandering." The vagus nerve meanders from the brain stem
through the neck and finally ends up in the abdomen. There's the brain-gut
Have you ever wondered why an impending job
interview can cause an attack of intestinal cramps? And why do anti-depressants
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
lesser-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. No wonder people trust their gut. One half of all our nerve cells are
located within the gut.
The state of the gut has a profound influence
upon our health. It is from the healthy gut that we enjoy neurological and
psychological as well as immunological health. This is not to discount the human
brain. This is simply to say that the body has two brains -- the second brain
being our gut. There is an excellent article on this brain-gut connection called
Complex and Hidden Brain in Gut Makes Bellyaches and Butterflies written
by Sandra Blakeslee, originally published in the January 23, 1996 issue of The
New York Times.
How it all Works
brain, known as the enteric nervous system (ENS), is located in sheaths of
tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. Considered a
single entity, it is packed with neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins that
zap messages between neurons or support cells like those found in the brain. It
contains a complex circuitry that enables it to act independently, learn,
remember and, as the saying goes, produce gut feelings.
In his book The Second Brain, HarperCollins
1998, Dr. Michael Gershon, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at
Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, dubs the entire
gastrointestinal system the body's second nervous system. "The brain is not
the only place in the body that's full of neurotransmitters," says Dr.
Gershon. "A hundred million neurotransmitters line the length of the gut,
approximately the same number that is found in the brain..." If we add the
nerve cells of the esophagus, stomach and large intestine, there are more nerve
cells in the gut than there are in the entire remainder of the peripheral
nervous system. Nearly every chemical that controls the brain in the head has
been identified in the gut, including hormones and neurotransmitters.
This complex circuitry provides the brain in the gut with the means to act
independently. Proof of this can be seen in stroke victims whose brain stem
cells, which control swallowing, have been destroyed. If this occurs, a surgeon
has to create an opening in the abdominal wall, so that feeding can be
accomplished by manually inserting foods directly into the stomach. Once the
food is in the stomach, digestion and absorption can take place, even in
individuals who are brain dead. The central nervous system is needed for
swallowing and for defecation, but from the time the food is swallowed to the
moment its remains are expelled from the anus, the gut is in charge.
Notes taken from, Patient Heal Thyself by Jordan S. Rubin, NMD,
For more interesting articles,
click here for free access
to your guide to hard-to-find wellness information for obscure and
difficult health conditions.
Health and Wellness Through Education
KNOW YOUR OPTIONS