How Smart is your Gut?

We all know that our guts and our emotions are intimately linked and have felt (at the very least) butterflies in our stomachs before a big event.

What you might not know however is that your gut contains about 100 million neurons which, to put it in perspective, is not far off what a dog has in its cortex. So what is this second brain, as it has been called, doing all day?

As with most things in Neuroscience we don’t have all the answers yet but it seems that digestion is a complex business. The system is autonomous if needs be and controls the intestinal muscles as well as application of enzymes used for digestion. Is all this computational power really necessary though? What else is it up to?

If we look at the vagus nerve which connects the enteric nervous system, as it’s known, to the central nervous system we see that most of the communication seems to flow up to the brain, rather than down to the gut. You might assume that the brain would be calling the shots but apparently not or at the very least what goes on below is very important to our cognitive processes.

Recent research hints at a strong connection with our emotional well being and even the possibility that communication problems between the two is related to certain types of mental illness.

This leads us, or at least me, to the conclusion that neuroscience can no longer study the CNS in isolation, we must also pay attention to the brain in your gut.

It doesn’t end here though as researchers are now thinking about how the 100 trillion microorganisms that live in your gut influence this system.

Can we ignore the interplay of these massively complex systems and hope to understand how the brain works?

I’m leaning towards no and my second brain, plus his 100 trillion guests, are telling me I’m not wrong, or maybe that I’m hungry…

photo credit: Rebecca-Lee via photopin cc


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