The Brain in the Belly

What we feed our stomachs, not only nourishes our body, but also our minds. The topic of the microbiome within our guts has gained in popularity among nutrition circles- and for good reason. Scientists have done countless studies about how our gut (microbiome) affects our brain. You’re not conscious of your gut thinking, but the Enteric Nervous System (ENS), produces about 95% of the serotonin and 50% of the dopamine in your body. The second brain communicates directly to the brain and has the ability to act independently and influence our behaviors.

Professor Robert Knight stated, “The three pounds of microbes that you carry around with you might be more important than every single gene you carry around in your genome.” In his TED Talk, Knight explains the microbiome and how this complex community of bacteria in your gut influences us more than we may think. In fact, bacterial genes outnumber your own human genes at a ratio of one-hundred to one; therefore 90% of the cells in our body are bacterial.

Scientists have proven that these bacteria in our gut protect us against infection, provide nutrients to the cells in the gut by harvesting energy from our diet, and influence our mood and behavior. Researchers are still trying to understand the exact interaction between bacteria and the brain. It is, however, evident that the bacteria have the ability to affect the immune system and produce their own neurotransmitters.

The ENS has been shown to contribute to big emotional shifts, especially experienced in people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional bowel problems (bloating, stomach upset, constipation, diarrhea)-which makes sense in that irritation in your gastrointestinal system may send signals to your central nervous system (CNS) that trigger a mood change. These findings help to explain why a higher percentage of people suffering from IBS develop depression and anxiety- ever more importantly to note, 30-40 percent of the population suffers from functional bowel problems at some point.

Therefore, if we starve our microbiome of nutrients it needs to function properly we suffer. We are depleting a system that can inform us and guide us if we are open to listening and caring for it. It is worth noting that researches have observed a greater flow of neural traffic from the ENS to the head-brain than from the head-brain to the ENS. This informs us that the digestive system is trying to communicate what we should nourish our bodies with and how we should metabolize it.

Our second brain (gut) intelligence has been underutilized and dumbed-down from decades of living in a toxic world, stressed eating (or not eating), and poor quality food. It is time we focus on our gut wisdom and nourish her properly. It is possible for us to tune into that wisdom and gain true feedback of what your body needs and craves. Unlike the brain, the gut communicates to us through sensations, instinct and intuition-listen! If we allow ourselves to tune in we can discover not only what our body needs but also understand some of our more intuitive sensations.

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