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  • Writer's pictureElise Johnson

Two Heads Are Better Than One

Updated: Apr 10






Infograph asking What is referred to as your second brain. Optional answers are either your calf muscle or your gut.
Quiz Time

Have you heard the expression, communication is a two-way street? Well, we're going to explore how this concept relates to your gut health. Let’s begin with the connection between your first brain and your second brain - your gut! Did you guess correctly? (Your calf muscle is referred to as your “second heart,” but you can read about that in my previous rebounder post.


Your gut is considered by many to be much like a second brain, and it's connected to the brain in our heads in more ways than one. If you've ever felt your mood decline because of digestive disturbances, or if you’re emotional state has caused your stomach to act up, you're not imagining it. The gut and the brain are intrinsically and undeniably connected both physically and chemically. This connection is made possible by the gut-brain axis which is a bidirectional communication pathway. This is a fancy way of saying that your gut sends signals to your brain and vice-versa.

Likewise, signals are sent from the brain to the gut. Let's explore how this amazing communication takes place. The GI tract has its own division of the nervous system called the enteric nervous system or ENS for short. The ENS is part of the autonomic nervous system, which controls all of the muscle contractions and reflexes that happen during digestion.


The ENS has between 200 and 600 million nerve cells! In addition to controlling digestion, this impressive system can affect how disease manifests in the body. It can also influence the state of our emotional well being.

So, exactly how are the brain and gut physically connected? One way is through the vagus nerve, a very long cranial nerve which extends all the way from the brain to part of the colon. You can think of it as a superhighway which communicates all kinds of sensory and motor impulses to your internal organs including, you guessed it, your gut.

We'll get more into our largest nerve in an upcoming post. For now, just know that it's essential to keep the vagus nerve healthy so that it's able to function optimally.


As in any good relationship, it's important to keep communication between the gut and the brain vibrant and strong. When this nerve is impaired, or there is a breakdown in communication between the gut and the brain, hypersensitivity can occur as a result when this happens. The body begins to respond to stimuli that normally wouldn't be problematic, such as experiencing pain or bloating after eating a meal that normally wouldn't cause you discomfort. This digestive distress could be a communication breakdown between the gut and the brain. One factor may be stress, another diet, or toxin exposure. This is why a healthy, balanced lifestyle is so important.


The gut and the brain are also connected through neurotransmitters, which are the chemical messengers of the nervous system. Neurons, or nerve cells, communicate with one another using these neurotransmitters,. The brain is continuously sending messages to various parts of your body via these neurotransmitters, telling the body to perform important tasks like instructing your heart to beat and initiating digestion.


Your gut, which houses millions of neurons, is a communication hotspot. Neurotransmitters travel up and down your vagus nerve keeping the gut and brain in constant communication,. There are about 20 to 30 different neurotransmitters in the brain, and guess what, the gut has the same variety. Is that not amazing?


If you think of neurotransmitters as the language through which neurons communicate, then your gut has the ability to communicate with as many words as the. brain. That is incredible. Think of it like a game of telephone, when a message is passed down from one individual to the next, the gut and the brain produce and utilize several of the same neurotransmitters.


You may have heard of serotonin. It's often referred to as the “happy chemical“ because it enhances our feelings of well being. You may find it interesting that it also influences gut motility which is how the food you eat moves from your mouth throughout your digestive tract. This is just one of the neurotransmitters that's produced in both the brain and the gut. Interestingly, an overwhelming majority of serotonin, over 90% actually, is produced in the gut. However, serotonin can become inhibited from being absorbed, produced, or utilized due to many factors such as inflammation, stress, medications, genetics, and having an overall unhealthy lifestyle. This can result in serotonin receptors in the gut mucosa, from becoming desensitized over time, making the GI tract sluggish which can cause constipation. On the flip side, an imbalance of too much serotonin can over stimulate the GI tract, resulting in diarrhea.


Bacteria in the gut can help create, synthesize, and modulate many of the same neurotransmitters that are used in the brain like GABA, brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), norepinephrine, dopamine, melatonin, and acetylcholine. Together these neurotransmitters and the microbiome, influence crucial development of our ENS or our enteric nervous system, our central nervous system, and our immune system.


As an integrative nutrition health coach, I teach my clients about the gut-brain axis in order to keep this valuable connection healthy and strong.


IMPORTANT TO KNOW


Your gut feelings are legitimate sources of information, and due to biological mechanisms, emotions can influence your digestive health. The health of your gut can influence your emotional well being. I sincerely hope that this information will encourage you to take the necessary steps to strengthen your microbiome. I would be more than happy to help you.

Don’t wait for sickness to arrive before you value your wellness.


Know that there is much you can do now to take control of your health. Your emotional and physical well being are intricately connected. I hope you found this knowledge reassuring and illuminating. You can approach good health from multiple angles. Understanding the gut-brain connection provides an incredible opportunity to reflect on many aspects of your life that may be contributing to any gut disturbances. What you may have initially thought was just the product of a poor diet could also be caused by emotional stressors, impaired gut-brain connection, dysbiosis (an imbalance in your gut microbial community), or an imbalance of neurotransmitter production. This knowledge can expand your awareness of the interconnectedness of the body and allow you to explore more avenues for improving your gut health beyond just diet, because the communication between the gut and the brain is so essential,. As a coach, I encourage my clients to keep this communication strong., healthy, and open.


WHAT YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT THE GUT-BRAIN AXIS

1) Nourish your brain and your microbiome by eating nutrient-dense, whole foods that are anti-inflammatory and rich in omega-three fatty acids.


2) Reduce stress by implementing stress management practices and strengthening your vagus nerve.

3) Partner with an integrative nutrition health coach to help educate and empower you to take back your health and to live your healthiest and happiest life!


Until next well…


Be well!


Elise xo





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