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There is a ‘second brain’ in your gut — and it controls more than you might imagine


Does the human gut perform other important functions besides just digesting and assimilating our food? A new video put together by AsapSCIENCE explains in precise detail how the gut is not only multimodal when it comes to governing the metabolic functionality of our bodies, but it further acts as a type of “second brain” to regulate our hormone levels, our moods, and even the primary brain up-top in the noggin.

The roughly five-minute video posted to YouTube unpacks the emerging science behind the gut’s brain, or what is more descriptively known as the enteric nervous system. This system governs the breakdown and use of food from esophagus to anus, and it also operates independently of our primary brains to keep our bodies balanced and in a constant state of homeostasis.

Besides harboring a complex ecosystem of beneficial bacteria that ward off invaders and help extract nutrients from food, the enteric nervous system is also responsible for manufacturing many of the “feel good” hormones that keep us level-headed and mentally stable. Case in point: roughly half of all dopamine and upwards of 90 percent of all serotonin is produced in the gut, not in the brain, hence the importance of maintaining proper gut health.

Gut bacteria also plays a role in regulating the structural integrity of our brains, acting to prevent the formation of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. It’s a two-way street between the gut brain and the head brain, in other words, and both are necessary in their own rites for keeping our bodies healthy and strong.

“The system is way too complicated to have evolved only to make sure things move out of your colon,” says Emeran Mayer, a professor of physiology, psychiatry, and behavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, as quoted by Scientific American.

Probiotics, enzymes support optimal gut-brain axis health
The way the “gut brain” communicates with the “head brain” is through what’s known as the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that reaches all the way down from the brainstem to the abdomen, traveling through the heart, esophagus, and lungs along the way. Also known as the gut-brain axis, this nerve system is responsible for facilitating the movement of upwards of 90 of communications between the brain and the gut.

The probiotic bacteria in the gut, which rely upon a healthy stream of enzymes from food and/or supplements, are the standing army that ensures the optimal functionality of the gut-brain axis, hence why maintaining a healthy probiotic environment is so critical.

When gut bacteria is lacking or off-balance, the gut-brain axis suffers and the consequences are disastrous. A persistent state of gut dysbiosis can provoke a host of psychiatric and neurological disorders, not the least of which include conditions like anxiety, depression, stress and even autism–and a host of degenerative brain conditions to boot.

This Lab Roots infographic spells out exactly how gut microbiota facilitate healthy communication between the gut and brain, and how bowel disorders are more often than not indicators that something is off kilter–a beckoning cry that can further manifest with symptoms of mental and emotional imbalance.

A 2013 study involving mice revealed that mice with chronic anxious and anti-social characteristics experienced relief after having their gut bacteria replaced with that of fearless and social mice. The same experiment worked in reverse: the fearless mice developed strange phobias after having their microbiota replaced with that of anxious mice, a condition that was effectively brought back to normalcy after supplementing their diets with probiotics.