The Gut….Our Second Brain?

by THOMAS on Dec 11, 2014 • 9:46 am

Hippocrates believed that the digestive system was the most important system in the human body. Many practitioners in the healthcare industry have since echoed this same belief. Modern medicine eventually adopted Hippocrates as their mascot, “father of modern medicine”, and morphed many of his beliefs into the “Hippocratic Oath”. It is rather ironic that Hippocrates was a believer in holism and that is how he practiced, which runs quite contrary to the allopathic philosophy of modern medicine. Many practitioners in the healthcare industry have known of the importance of the digestive system but we are just beginning to fully understand the many neurological connections between the brain and the gut. The subject of neurogastroenterology is a relatively new field that is devoted to the study of the “gut-brain” connection and how nutritional protocols can help heal.


The Enteric Nervous System or Second Brain is another way to refer to this complex system of about one hundred million neurons that is ultimately responsible for the production and storage of the majority of neurotransmitter substances. There are actually more neurons in the digestive system than there are in the spinal cord. These substances are identical to those found in the central nervous system or CNS, such as dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine and are responsible for regulating our moods and our emotional and psychological well being. Research has revealed that up 80-90% of the neurotransmitter substances serotonin and melatonin are produced and stored in the intestinal walls where they regulate muscular movements and sensory transmission. Researchers also discovered that transmission works in both directions indicating that there is constant communications between the gut and the brain. So in effect, digestive dysfunction is capable of altering our behavior and thoughts as well as our behavior and thoughts can effect changes in our digestion. Examples of this would be tense and emotional situations causing stomach upset, diarrhea or total indigestion or feeling lonely or lacking self esteem could cause lack of appetite or indifference toward food. An example of the opposite scenario would be a bout of diarrhea, and intestinal spasms causing irritability, over sensitivity and ultimate exhaustion.


As research begins to reveal the complexities of the digestive system and its connection with the brain, the importance of maintaining a healthy and vibrant digestive tract is becoming much more significant. So to ignore the minor discomforts of gas, bloating, fatigue, constipation and diarrhea, just to name a few symptoms, places us in a potentially perilous health position down the road. Once the lining of our digestive tract becomes compromised by the use of over the counter and prescription medications, and the consumption of processed foods, our bodies are no longer able to defend us against invaders or process and absorb vital nutrients from our food. This puts our bodies at increasing risk to develop catastrophic illnesses such as heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and stroke, not to mention a host of arthritic possibilities.


I spend a good deal of time in the clinic working with patients who are trying to restore normal function to their digestive systems. In most instances rebuilding the digestive system not only takes a bit of work but can also take time, sometimes months and even years before normal function is completely restored. This is not as simple as going to the grocery store and buying Activia or good belly and a pint of yogurt.  Restoring the digestive tract involves driving out the bad characters such as opportunistic bacteria, parasites, fungus, ,and yeasts; fortifying the stomach acid to normal levels; taking professional probiotic formulations; and supplements to repair the damaged lining of the intestinal walls. Dietary and lifestyle changes on the part of patients are also absolutely essential to the success of any such undertaking. Patients need to understand that these conditions in their digestive systems did not happen overnight so to expect them to resolve overnight is not being realistic. Yes, this can be challenging but patients also need to understand that the ultimate responsibility for their health rest with them and not their health care practitioner.


 As science begins to uncover more of the intricacies of the “gut-brain” connection, the importance of the digestive system as the foundation of our health is becoming increasingly clear.  If society is really concerned with the overall health of the public then we must look to the digestion system as the solution to restoring optimum health.


For additional information on this subject I would recommend the Well Being Journal and the Weston Price Foundation’s “Wise Traditions” publication. The current addition of the Well Being Journal (December/ January) contains several reference articles with bibliographies ob the “Gut-Brain” connection.