Did you know, we have not one, but two brains in the body? Did you also know we are more non-human than human?
The central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the digestive system are intimately connected.
We have all felt this connection.
Think about the last time you were nervous. What did you feel? The sensation of butterflies in the stomach?! What about when you see something repulsive? Did you feel sick and nauseous?
These sensations in your gut are coming from a network of neurons which line our intestinal walls.
This mass of neural tissue is so extensive that some scientists have nicknamed it the “second brain” or the “little brain”. Therefore, the two brains in the one body! This is called our enteric nervous system (ENS) and contains around 100 million neurons – more than what is found in the spinal cord!
The first observation of this connection was by William Beaumont (also known as ‘The Father of Gastric Physiology’) when he performed on a wounded soldier with gastric fistula it showed that fear or anger may significantly influence the gastric physiology, especially acid secretion. (Beaumont W, 1838)
In the later years, the major breakthrough in understanding the interactions between the central nervous system (CNS) and the gut was the discovery of the enteric nervous system (ENS) in the nineteenth century. The brain communicates with the stomach through multiple parallel pathways including the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), and other connections, which were termed the brain-gut-axis (BGA). (Konturek SJ, et.al. J Physiol Pharmacol 2004; 55: 137-154)
In addition to this, not only is the mind and gut connected by the Enteric Nervous System but the trillions of microorganisms that live inside of our gut actually produce and release various neuropeptides and hormones that the brain and body utilises.
These microorganisms are collectively called our microbiome. The most significant microorganism habitat resides in our gut, other locations include our skin and mouth. There are around 100 trillion of these microorganisms on or inside us, and they outnumber our human cells by at least 10 to 1. Hence we are more non-human than human!
Now before you rush off to the shower to scrub these away, did you know these microbes could be positively influencing your health?
Benefits of the microbiome and Brain-Gut-Axis.
First of all, the gut microbiome keeps our digestive system strong and healthy as it aids in the release and function of our digestive acids and enzymes.
It boosts immunity by supporting mature development and functionality of the immune system. Up to 80% of our immune cells are actually produced in the digestive system (Vighi et al., 2008). It also strengthens our first line of defence against pathogens or bacteria or viruses which can cause disease by providing competition for nutrition in the gut.
It helps absorb nutrients by metabolising indigestible food compounds. It also helps produce essential vitamins and other nutrients – such as B vitamins, Vitamin K.
An exciting new area of research emerging is how the state of our microbiome is influencing the health of our mind.
Its estimated that 90% of serotonin (our happy brain chemical) is made in the gut (Caltec, 2015).
And 50% of all dopamine is produced in the brain.
There is accumulating evidence demonstrates that a disturbed microbiota and impaired BGA is not only linked with gut health disorders but can potentially influence conditions like depression, obesity, epilepsy, autoimmune conditions and more.
So why is this knowledge important?
What we can gather from this information, is that whatever is happening in one, affects the other.
When digestion isn't working well, it affects our mood, our enjoyment, our clarity of mind and immunity. And when our mind is stressed and overactive, it can create digestive issues. It can be a self-perpetuating cycle.
So when it comes to peak performance in the workplace, reaching our full potential in life, building resilience to stress and experiencing happiness, we not only want to focus on positive psychology, relaxation techniques and stress management tools of that nature, but we also need to look after our physiology - specifically, our digestive system.
Therefore the foods we eat, the lifestyles we live, the routines we commit to are essential for creating peak performance on all levels of being.
Author: Tegan Wallis
Tegan is an Naturopath, Ayurveda Health Consultant and Yoga Teacher at Griffith Consulting's sister company, Veda Wellness.
Tegan is one of Griffith Consulting's key program facilitators and specialises in workplace health & wellness.
For more information about Tegan or her services, please go to: www.vedawellness.com.au