In the event our gastrointestinal (GI) systems were able to speak, wouldn’t it be interesting to know what’s on your gut’s mind? Lying there, coiled within your belly…is it in a state of bliss or on stress overload? Is it enjoying the plethora of foods you inundate it with, day in and day out? Is it happy with the overall lay of the microbial land? Is it strong or constantly mending its inflamed wounds? Is it capable of cultivating the energy necessary to accomplish all of the important tasks you need it to?
Let’s take a trip back in time to the 19th century, to meet two British scientists by the name of Bayliss and Starling. These super-savvy gentlemen devised an animal experiment in which they surgically disconnected the physiological linkage between the animal’s GI tract and its central nervous system (CNS). And what do you know? The scientists were able to stimulate peristalsis (digestive action)—yep, without any instructions from the animal’s brain via the CNS to accomplish this salient task. Their scientific adventures provided the first glimpse into the world of the enteric nervous system and, in turn, the earliest inkling of the gut’s capacity to act as its own brain, hence allowing it to earn its title as the second brain. Friendly reminder— it is the ONLY organ in the entire body capable of doing so!
Thankfully, this field of neurogastroenterology continues to emerge and both integrative and conventional med docs are showing it a little L-O-V-E. Finally! (That was your gut talking.)
So, yes, being that it’s capable of “thinking,” we ought to show it a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T! More importantly, GI dysfunction has been correlated to a number of health maladies ranging from the more straightforward: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, Crohn’s, etc. to the more complex: autoimmune conditions, chronic fatigue syndrome, neurological conditions, behavioral conditions, and more. Because of the nature of the gut’s influence on our overall health (including keeping our immune systems on par, synthesizing must-have neurotransmitters, combating pathogenic organisms, and assimilating essential nutrients), there’s no logical reason to discount the influence of the gut in every patient’s case.
Fun facts (and reasons why the gut should always be evaluated!):
The gut makes up approximately 75% of the entire body’s immune function. (If the GI tract is compromised, the immune system is, too.)
The microbiota (bugs) in our gut number in the trillions and may include over 500 unique species. (Many of these species are yet to be identified. By a margin of 10:1, our human cells are outnumbered by bacteria…be kind to your bugs, we surely don’t want to encourage a revolt!)
Each individual has his/her own microbial fingerprint. (Be on the lookout for more on gut enterotypes, which will help us customize individualized microbial treatment for patients in the near future.)
The gut produces just as many neurotransmitters as the brain. (This is a big tie in to mental/emotional dysfunction. As an example, over 97% of chronic fatigue patients fit diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder; interestingly enough, over 50% also meet diagnostic criteria for IBS. Coincidence, I think not!)
Studies have linked increased anxiety levels to microbial infections in the gut. (Mouse studies have demonstrated that groups of mice with different microbial populations demonstrate very different motor activity and anxiety-like behavior. Ever overeaten some type of vittles and paid for it afterwards? Ever felt super sluggish and in dampened spirits afterwards? Here’s a study telling us why!)
The presence of food allergies has been linked to neurological disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, and panic disorder. (In cases of schizophrenia, patients who are also diagnosed as having celiac disease have experienced a return to health with compliance to a gluten-free diet.)
So there you have it, the gut wins! For those who subscribe to the philosophy, second place is the first loser, think again. In fact, if we treat our guts in this manner, the only losers are you and me because— although it is considered the second brain—it’s first in line for overall health!
For a more detailed analysis of the inner workings of your GI tract, turn to the Comprehensive GI Effects stool analysis which employs DNA-analysis technology. You’ll be amazed at the treasure trove of information found within the deep, dark depths of the crypts of Leiberkuhn!
Go forth and be well! ~ Dr. Marynowski
- The Human Microbiome Project, NIH
- The Second Brain: Your Gut has a Mind of its Own by Dr. Michael Gershon
- Svedlund, J. et.al. Upper Gastrointestinal and mental symptoms in the irritable bowel syndrome. Scand J Gastroenterol 1985: 20: 595-601. 18.
- A Venket Rao,1 Alison C Bested,2,3 Tracey M Beaulne,3 Martin A Katzman,4,5 Christina Iorio,5 John M Berardi,6 and Alan C Logan3 A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of a probiotic in emotional symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. 2009
- Patten, S.B., Williams, J.V.A. Self-reported allergies and their relationship to several axis I disorders in a community sample. Int’l. J. Psychiatry in Medicine, Vol. 37 (1) 11-22, 2007.
- Schizophrenia Linked to Celiac Disease and Other Autoimmune Diseases
- Rochellys, Shugui, Farhana, Qiana,b, Björkholmd, Samuelssond, Hibberdc, Forssbergb, and Petterssonc. Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior. 2011