If you have ever had a “gut feeling” or have experienced butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous, you might have thought that these feelings stem from your brain right? Well, it does stem from your brain, but not the one in your head — it’s the one in your stomach. Yes, we have two brains and the second is not just for digesting your food.
Hidden within the walls of your digestive system, the brain in your stomach is revolutionizing the way scientists understand the correlation between mood, digestion, health and even the way you think.
What Is the Second Brain?
Your second brain is often referred to as your enteric nervous system (ENS), which is embedded within the lining of the gastrointestinal system, beginning in the esophagus extending all the way down to the anus. Just like your nervous system, this particular system is composed of neurons, 500 million to be exact, which is five times as many that’s in the human spinal cord.
What Does Your Gut’s Brain Control?
Unlike the brain in your skull, the ENS can’t solve complicated math problems or help you write a romantic note to your loved one, but it does control digestion in many ways like swallowing, releasing enzymes that break down food and maintaining blood flow to help absorb nutrients.
The second brain really has a mind of its own because, in addition to communicating with the central nervous system, it also controls the digestive tract all by itself with its own nervous system that can operate independently from the brain and spinal cord.
Even though the second brain can’t necessarily draft a love note, it can play a part in how we feel. It might come as a surprise, but the emotions we feel are influenced by nerves in the stomach. From getting butterflies in your tummy to feeling scared to the point where it makes you want to throw up or the anticipation you feel when you’re talking to the love of your life, it’s all connected by the communication between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system.
Digestion plays a prominent role in what we eat, how we eat and how the foods we eat, whether junk food or healthy food, affect our mental health. Even the father of medicine, Hippocrates, said all diseases start in the gut, which has been confirmed by researchers who have concluded that 90 percent of all diseases can be traced back to the stomach, and these diseases can have an impact on the nervous system.
The food we put in our mouths can either help us or harm us, so the next time you’re deciding on what to eat for dinner, you should also think about the impact that food will have on both of your brains.