Our Second Brain and Digestive Intelligence Part 1
By: Dr. Irina Matveikova
Remarkable as it may sound to you – our digestive system has a very sophisticated design, complexity and intelligence! It acts independently and so specifically in every single person that we professionals, are regularly surprised by its behaviour. The digestive tract has always been overlooked and almost ‘discriminated’ against; treated as some less important part of the body because it appeared to be very primitive and basic in its functions. The gut was frequently considered be totally unattractive, dirty and an object of shame.
The general public used to ignore the digestive system and treat it as ‘must function’ in spite of everything thrown its way - from a bad diet and lifestyle, to abuse of alcohol, medications, smoking and drugs; until the stomach would protest and manifest extreme symptoms of pain, bloating, diarrhoea and many other problems.
So then it had to be ‘shut down’ with symptomatic treatments. People did not pay much attention to digestive discomfort; removing this temporary upset was sufficient and they never looked more deeply into the reasons behind their own digestive rebellions. Hopefully, and thanks to the last 20 years of medical research, we have changed our vision and our knowledge about digestive functions. This precious system was finally plucked from obscurity and is now positioned in its rightful place and attracts a lot of attention from scientists.
We have a true second brain in our guts; its neuronal function is very similar to the brain in our heads. Inside our belly is an extensive network of neurons located between the two muscular layers of the walls of the digestive system. Moreover, the structure of these digestive neurons is identical to that of the neurons in the brain; both produce similar chemical molecules, neurotransmitters and hormones, which are mostly necessary for our intercellular communications and the correct functioning of the entire body. In medical science our second, digestive, brain has a name: the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).
According to new data, the total number of neurons (brain cells) found in our ENS is more than one hundred million. This figure represents a considerably higher number of neurons than in the spinal cord, for example. The brain in our gut is the main production line and storage centre for many neurotransmitters. These substances regulate our moods and our emotions, physical and our psychological wellbeing.
The presence of such a wide variety of neurotransmitters in our intestines is a clear indication of the complexity of the rich digestive language that is spoken from our gut and of its ability to carry out neuronal functions and express its own emotions.
In 1999 it was revealed that 90 percent of serotonin (the famous ‘happiness’ hormone) is produced and stored in the intestinal walls! Only the remaining 10 percent of the body’s serotonin is synthesized in the neurons of the central nervous system - the cerebral brain - or our ‘higher brain’.
The minimal amount of serotonin in the higher brain is, nevertheless, of vital importance to human beings. It performs various functions including regulating our ‘good’ moods (that calm, relaxed sensation and feeling of wellbeing), sleep, and muscular contractions. It also intervenes in cognitive functions such as memory and learning. Serotonin is the ‘messenger of happiness’, and we do, indeed, have a sea of this substance stored in our digestive system. If we could just learn how to utilize and to mobilize the tremendous neurological and hormonal potential of our gut!
So, how can we take advantage of this valuable resource and make the best use of it for our mental and digestive health?
This is a truly challenging task for researchers. That is why scientists and the pharmaceutical industry are currently devoting so much of their research and testing to Neurogastroenterology - a new branch of medicine that studies our Second Brain and its role in health and diseases.
Each of us from time to time has a ‘gut feeling’, a warning that comes from deep inside and can often appear in intense or extreme emotional situations. This is our second brain talking to us. It said that our second brain is more authentic, more sincere and more connected to our true inner feelings than the cerebral brain; and, furthermore, is the more rebellious one of the two. It evades any social influences, logic and our even own mental powers. If our gut nervous centre suffers neurosis, then it’s clear we should definitely not ignore it and, indeed, we cannot afford to do so because it sends us signals about our true state of health and mind.
Additionally, it is the centre of our intuition, premonition, control, fear, hidden obsessions, etc. Our digestive neurological language can present itself as a whole range of sensations: from a pleasurable thrill to a nervous knot, a hollow feeling, or a pain. So we had better stop for a while, to analyze its message and to correct the problem. The digestive system has great plasticity and capacity for recuperation and would be truly thankful - in only two-three days - for a more careful diet, good sleep, relaxation and a basic balancing of your lifestyle. We can afford this short break and self-care, can’t we?
In my book, Digestive Intelligence, you will find many tips about how to detoxify your gut and liver, how to organize your detox diet, to nourish your systems and even how to breathe correctly. I do encourage you to learn to interpret your gut signals and to understand the origin and mechanisms of your stomachs upsets and try to correct and to control them in a preventive and holistic way.
Although Western medicine has only recognized the ‘second brain’ recently, in Eastern medicine the belly has long been viewed as the vital centre of the human organism. Traditional Chinese medicine recognizes the gut as ‘the centre of energy, the sea of qi’. Qi is the vital energy, force, or impulse. In contrast to the energy controlled by willpower or ‘doing’, the qi in the belly is felt and allowed to come. Ideally, we should be in contact with this centre (the gut itself) and concentrate on its energy.
In Japanese martial arts, the hara represents the belly, man’s centre of being, the sea of qi. To be hara-centered is equivalent to an optimal state of health and integration of all the bodily systems, longevity, and wellbeing. It leads to a general state of serenity and profound calm, awareness, reason, personal power, and balanced action.
Those with weak hara have fragile health, get angry and lose their temper easily and, when faced with adversity, they quickly lose their self-control. The expression ‘to be centered’, or in contact with our internal energy, has a lot to do with having a balanced and healthy digestive system, in the language of Western medicine.
Once again I would like to emphasize that there is a direct connection between the psyche and the stomach. Many intestinal problems can be explained by the malfunctioning of the intestinal brain, or by interferences in its communication with the higher brain. The gut brain is where fear, anxiety, or phobias originate, along with excessive control or obsessions, and also premonition, apprehension, and intuition. Scientists consider that the abdominal brain can also memorize certain emotions, childhood traumas, experience stress, and suffer its own psychoneurosis.
Nowadays we know that there is constant communication between the two brains: the one inside our skull and its brother down there in our gut and the influence travels in both directions. I can assure you that the relationship between the two brains, which involves hormonal, metabolic, and emotional levels, is very complex—we could even call it intellectual; it is also normally quite democratic and mutually respectful.
We are very excited to have Dr. Irina Matveikova come back and give a 4 hour workshop on Saturday January 21st specifically on the gut health of our children and how it relates to anxiety, depression, autism spectrum, ASD, and digestive issues. The workshop will be designed specifically for the attendees. There is some confidential prep work involved so you will leave with a clear understanding of an action plan to help your child.
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