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Gut Reactions

My goals for the upcoming year include diminishing the waistline and increasing my cognitive abilities. They have more of a relationship, with each other than you may think, and share methods. In future messages, I will share techniques and success stories.

I recently learned that we actually have as many brain cells in our gut, as in our skull. I have always known that my sense of time and the most reliable 'clock' in our house is in my stomach.

Have you ever had a physical sensation something wasn’t quite right? Or, perhaps an odd feeling that a situation was somehow dangerous? Or, have you had “butterflies” in your stomach just before an important meeting or situation? That was your second brain in action.

Unknown to most people, we actually have two physical brains. You are intimately familiar with the brain encased in your skull. But did you know you also have a second brain in your gut? In fact, over one half of your nerve cells are located in your gut. And you may be even more surprised to learn that your second “gut brain” contains neurons and neurotransmitters, which are exactly like those found in your skull.

Your “gut brain” is also able to learn, remember, and produce emotion-based feelings. The expression “gut-level feeling” isn’t just a “saying.” Our two brains communicate back and forth via a major nerve trunk extending down from the base of your brain all the way down into your abdomen. Because of this connection, your two brains directly influence each other. When one brain becomes upset, the other joins right in, which is why your stomach might get “fluttery” because of anxiety before an important meeting. Or, why a late night spicy snack which is hard on your stomach might also give you some nasty nightmares.

During early fetal development both your “gut” (esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon) and your primary brain started to develop from the same clump of embryonic tissue. When that piece of tissue divided, one piece grew into your central nervous system (your brain and cranial nerves). The other section became your enteric nervous system (your “gut brain.”) During a later stage of fetal development, these two brains then became connected via a massive nerve: the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest of all our cranial nerves, and creates a direct connection between your brain and your gut. Because of this direct brain-gut connection, the state of your gut has a profound influence on your psychological well being. (HINT: This is the connection and the vagus nerve runs through the larynx.)

Your “gut brain,” known to scientists as the enteric nervous system (ENS), is embedded in the sheaths of tissue lining your esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. And, nearly every brain-regulating chemical found in your brain has also been discovered in your gut brain -- including both hormones and neurotransmitters. The total of nerve cells in your gut is greater than the total nerves connecting the rest your body to your brain. This complex circuitry allows your “gut brain”to act totally independent of the brain in your skull.

Hardly anything needs be said about the connection between stress and our gut. In many ways, this may be the most visible brain-gut connection. Anyone who has ever become emotionally upset knows the immediate effect on their gut. Your stomach “ties itself in knots,” rumbles and growls, and stops digesting. The results include chronic indigestion, ulcers, and a whole host of unpleasant conditions. And if the stress is chronic or intense enough, your colon may even go into spasms.

But our “gut brains” also help us in some amazing ways. They are a primary source of pain relief. The “gut brain” naturally produces chemicals (benzodiazepine) found in many pain relievers, and in anti-anxiety drugs like Valium. And like your primary brain, your “gut brain” also has opiate receptors.

Many mystical and natural healing practices consider the belly to be a major center of energy and higher consciousness. In China, the gentle arts of Tai Chi and Qigong emphasize the lower abdomen as a major reservoir for life energy and health. The belly is considered the “dantian” -- a key center for higher consciousness development. It is important to get your “gut brain” operating at its best. Start by paying attention to what’s happening in your digestive system. Remember, your gut does much more than digestion of food -- it also reacts to and digests your inward and outward “realities.”

Any questions??