Scientists are now calling the human gut the second brain, but why? Well, ever heard the saying, “go with your gut feeling?” Your gut has strong links with your brain, much more than scientists ever realized. We've all had “butterflies” at some point right. We've also had tightness in the stomach whenever we're not able to relax. Scientists are now starting to understand just how the brain and the gut communicate with one another. Soon we will take a look at how prebiotics may help with symptoms of anxiety. First, let us just break down the role of that brain in your gut:
Your gut brain has links in the following areas:
- Decision making
There are definite links between how our thoughts affect the way we feel. And the way we feel has a major impact on the way we function as people.
The Enteric Nervous System (ENS)
Scientists even have a name for this “second” brain. They call it the ENS or Enteric Nervous System. Your ENS has 100 million neurons (nerve cells). To put that into some perspective, that's more neurons than your peripheral nervous system (the nervous system outside your brain and spinal cord) and your spinal cord. Your enteric nervous system comprises two thin layers which host those 100 million neurons. These layers line your GI tract. They span from your esophagus (the muscular tube which connects your throat (pharynx) with your stomach) to your rectum.
The Role of Your Gut Brain
Although scientists call it your second brain, it does have a different role to the one under your skull. For example, your gut brain plays no role in conscious thoughts or decision making. What it does do though is communicate directly with your main brain, supplying it with data that your main brain then processes. The way your gut brain talks to your main brain can have profound results. It can affect how you think, feel and function as a person. A happy gut can contribute to a happy you. It might not be obvious to you that your gut is less than happy, but this manifests through your main brain.
Scientists have thought for some time that the ENS triggers emotive shifts in those suffering with bowel issues like diarrhea, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It was thought that depression and anxiety contributed to problems like these, but not anymore. The thinking now is that irritation in the GI tract sends signals to your central nervous system (CNS). These signals are what trigger mood changes and then those shifts in emotional state then contribute to bowel disorders. To put that another way, if your GI tract was happy, your emotional state would be much calmer and bowel disorders would not materialize.
A high percentage of people with bowel problems develop anxiety issues and depression. Inside your gut are colonies of both good and bad bacteria. In a healthy gut, the good or friendly bacteria predominate. You need to keep your gut in good shape. One way to maintain a healthy gut flora is to feed your friendly bacteria with prebiotics (food for probiotics (good bacteria)). We now know that prebiotics can have positive effects on emotional processing. They can also affect the steroid hormone cortisol and memory function. Although the research is ongoing, there is a excitement within the scientific community at large.