Have there been times when you just knew that a certain decision was the right one to take? You could not exactly explain but you just knew it. Science attribute that gut feeling you get that makes you so sure of a certain decision to a second brain in your gut called the Enteric Nervous System. Again, I love the series Flash and if you are familiar with it, you would know that Joe West is known for making decisions with his gut or should I say, his second brain. I believe the book Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive well explains how to take advantage of these gut feelings.
When it comes to your moods, decisions, and behaviour, the brain in your head is not the only one doing the thinking. Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, is the “ second brain in your gut” which is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health, and even the way you think. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is known to control digestion. Now it seems that it also plays an important role in our physical and mental well-being. It works independently of and in conjunction with the brain in your head to sense environmental threats, which in turn influences your response. This is done unconsciously, as you are not actively aware of the process. “A lot of the information that the gut sends to the brain affects well-being, and doesn’t even come to consciousness,” says Michael Gershon at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York.
You may wonder why the ENS is called the second brain in the gut. This is because there is an actual connection between the brain and the gut!
The connection between the ENS and the CNS
The Enteric Nervous System (ENS), which has been referred to as the brain in our gut, functions similarly to the Central Nervous System (CNS), which is made up of the brain and spinal cord because they are connected.
The ENS is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells that line the gastrointestinal tract (also known as the gut) from the esophagus to the rectum. When a baby grows in the womb, the ENS and the CNS develop from the same tissue and remain connected via the vagus nerve. In many ways, the two systems mirror each other in structure. They also both use many of the same neurotransmitters to function, including serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine. The gut is made up of neurons as well as a network of bacteria that form the microbiome.
The neurons in the gut operate similarly to the neurons in the brain.
Since brain neurons are known to communicate with other parts of the body, neuroscientist Diego Bohórquez of Duke University wondered if the neurons in the gut could do the same. After he conducted research in 2010, he discovered that the neurons in the gut could also communicate, and more surprising is that they communicate with the brain through the vagus nerve. This connection further established the theory that the gut has a connection to the brain.
This connection of the gut to the brain is responsible for the gut feeling you get. Put in layman’s language, the neurons in your gut communicate with the neurons in your brain to carry out decisions that are not influenced by conscious thinking but rather by our environment and past experiences. As new neurons can be formed in the brain through the concept of neuroplasticity, new neurons can also be formed in the Enteric Nervous System through the same concept. As you learn and experience new things, the kind of gut feeling you get gradually changes.
What are your thoughts on the second brain?