Our Second Brain
Have you ever heard of your body having a second brain? Maybe you have or maybe you are wondering what in the world I’m referring to. Our gut is our body’s second brain. Although referred to as our second brain, our gut can’t perform the same functions our actual brains do like making decisions. However, our gut is considered our second brain because it controls digestion, from swallowing to the release of enzymes that break down food to the control of blood flow that helps with nutrient absorption to elimination. Have you ever had the sensation that you had butterflies in your stomach? Or can you think of a time where your stomach flipped when you found out bad news or were in a situation that made you nervous? Our gut is sensitive to emotion. Anxiety, sadness, happiness, all of these feelings and more can trigger symptoms in the gut. New research is showing just how important the gut is to our overall health and well-being.
Serotonin or 5-hydroxytryptamine is a chemical found in our bodies that is referred to as the “happy chemical” because it contributes to happiness and well-being. Serotonin is usually associated with the brain because it is a brain neurotransmitter. So what does this have to do with our gut? New research shows that more than 90% of our serotonin is actually produced in our digestive tract. And altered levels of serotonin have been linked to diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, depression, and osteoporosis.
This idea of the gut being our second brain and understanding how important gut health is to our overall health is not new. Marie François Xavier Bichat a French anatomist did research on the gut-brain connection back in the 17th century; so this idea of the gut as the second brain is nothing new but it is becoming more popular and widely accepted as true in the medical community.
Connecting the Dots
The two brains of ours communicate with one another. The gut can send signals to the brain just as the brain can send signals to the gut. When someone experiences stomach distress it can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. This relates back to the research that shows that 90% of our body’s serotonin is produced in our gut.
Improving & Maintaining Gut Health
It is important that you eat a variety of foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics to support a healthy gut. Probiotic foods are foods that contain live cultures or bacteria. These are good bacteria that support a healthy gut. Foods and beverages that contain probiotics include:
- Cottage cheese
- fresh sauerkraut
- Apple cider vinegar
It is important to keep in mind that cooking or heating these foods and beverages will kill the probiotics and you will not get the same benefits from consuming them. In addition to probiotics, prebiotics are important for proper gut health. Prebiotics are different than probiotics as they do not contain bacteria like probiotics do. However, they provide fuel to the bacteria from probiotics to grow.
Foods containing prebiotics:
- Chicory Root
As more research continues to come out we will continue to get a better understanding of our bodies and how to optimize our health and wellbeing. The research supporting the gut brain connection is fascinating and reinforces the importance of having a healthy gut microbiome for overall health.
Quin Kelly, Penn State Intern