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  • Writer's pictureRobin Rhine McDonald

The "Stomach": Your 2nd Brain

Have you ever been super nervous for something, and suddenly your stomach begins to cramp and feel uncomfortable? Or maybe you can remember when you first met that special someone, and you felt like your stomach was filled with butterflies. What about when you determined that final decision by your "gut feeling"? And let's not forget that complete sense of satisfaction when we take the first bite of our favorite food.

Those experiences are common to everyone, and the reason why is so neat! Did you know that your digestive system is home to nearly one hundred million nerve cells? That's about the same amount that is found in the spinal cord!

That means that there is a very strong connection to what you feel and what you eat! In fact, your intestional nervous system can function independently from your brain, allowing your digestive system to serve as a "second brain", so to speak. When babies are being developed in the very early stages in their mother's womb, the two initial systems created are the central nervous system (the brain), and the intestinal nervous system, which form at the same rate separate of each other. I always thought the central nervous system controlled everything!

Research is finding all sorts of cool things about the digestive system. Almost every brain chemical is found in the gut, here are just a few:

  • Serotonin - mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory and sexual desire and function.

  • Dopamine - pleasure and reward.

  • Glutamate - memory and learning.

  • Norepinephrine - fight or flight response (stress!)

Also, the psychoactive chemicals used in anti-anxiety meds like Valium and Xanax are produced in the digetsive system as well! On the flip side of that, often times when people take drugs that are meant to treat matters of the brain (such as Prozac for depression), there are usually side effects that cause digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea. Basically, taking drugs for your brain causes a gut reaction, and your gut reaction causes some of those same chemicals to be produced!

Usually, the digestive system produces the most serotonin out of any other part of the body. But when this chemical cannot be produced, often due to a poor diet, it causes the whole digestive system to be off. In an effort to produce anti-anxiety or feel good chemicals, our body sends signals for certain cravings or increased hunger. Have you ever found yourself looking in the fridge and pantry for emotional relief? The connection between your stomach and your feelings is why!

For my Old Testament junkies, something I found particularly interesting is that the Hebrew understanding of "belly" is that it was the seat of emotions. And here we see science showing us that the stomach literally hosts our feelings and emotions! Crazy. (And to be clear, your stomach isn't the second brain... it's the whole GI tract. But I don't know about you, but I usually refer to my "belly" area as my stomach as a whole.)

So obviously there are some connections going on between our "two brains". Taking care of our digestive system is paramount for experiencing the life we're made for.

In addition to affecting our feelngs, the GI tract affects nearly every aspect of our health. Recovery for surgery on any random part of your body takes as long as it takes the stomach to absorb the nutrients necessary to heal that part of your body. Some doctors believe that over 90 percent of diseases are caused or complicated by toxins that are created in the GI tract!

I am sharing all of this for two reasons:

  1. I find it absolutely fascinating!

  2. I really want to see people experience the health they're made for, and THIS sure sounds like a compelling case for eating well and getting quality nutrients in our system.

If you're wondering how toxins enter our system or how you might reverse the damage, you're in luck! I've got a few pointers:

  1. Avoid processed foods (most things that come in a box or bag, crackers, pretzels, cookies, cereal, certain breads, most fast food places, donuts, cake, certain cheeses, certain frozen dinners, etc)

  2. Get as many dark leafy green things in you as possible! Kale is your friend.

  3. Incorporate fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, or organic pickled foods.

  4. Eat and take probiotics. Ryan and I take Usana probiotics everyday.

I hope you found this as interesting and helpful as I did!

Happy eating! ... literally ;)

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