March 4, 2016 11:37:07 pm
If you thought that only the brain in the head controlled how you feel and your decisions, think again! According to recent research, there exists another little brain in our gut and it appears to control a lot of how we feel, what we choose to eat and puts us in touch with our inner selves.
All of us go through the experience of giving into temptation and digging into unhealthy food knowing fully well, its conflict with our health goals. Obviously the information stored in our brain is not enough to control our eating behaviour.
The second brain in our bowels, consisting of about 100 million neurons, controls several aspects of eating: from mood-regulating hormones, several neurotransmitters including serotonin, appetite regulating hormones including ghrelin, neuropeptide YY and digestion controlling neurotransmitters. This could have far reaching implications in management of body weight, mood, immunity and digestive disorders like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
In other words, the second little brain in the gut in connection with the big one in the skull determines our mental state and plays a key role in certain diseases. The second brain, however, is not the seat of any conscious thoughts or decision making.
While it is well known that the brain in the head sends signals to the rest of the body, it seems that our second brain in the gut works the other way round and sends information from the gut to the brain. Equipped with its own reflexes and senses, the second brain can control digestion and gut behaviour independently of the brain. In other words, the brain in the head doesn’t need to get its hands dirty with the messy business of digestion.
As a big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves or the brain in our gut. Our gut feelings and butterflies in the stomach literally seem to be rooted from there. The second brain informs our state of mind to the brain in the head in obscure ways. Scientists are learning that 95 per cent serotonin secreted by the body is found in the bowels. Serotonin in the body plays a role in several diseases. Too much serotonin causes symptoms that can range from mild shivering or diarrhea to severe symptoms as muscle rigidity, fever or seizures.
It is no wonder that conventional treatment involving altering serotonin levels provokes gastro-intestinal issues as a side effect. Irritable bowel syndrome, one of the most common digestive disorders, arising in part from too much serotonin in our intestines could perhaps be regarded as the mental illness of the second brain. This information may be useful in regulating our emotional well-being and treatment of stress and depression. Ultimately, this could lead to modifying your eating behaviour through our gut.
The second brain also seems to be working with the immune system protecting us from hostile bacteria. Its role in immunity and inflammation are exciting areas of research. The second brain is complex and complicated, however, offers a whole new area of research for understanding our eating behaviour and potential treatment modalities in the future.
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