At Spinal Symmetry we approach your body as a whole. Every structure and function in your body is interconnected but governed and controlled by your nervous system. Everyday, our Spinal Symmetry practitioners are working with your nervous systems to restore the structure and thus function of your body. One interesting topic at the forefront of new research is the discovery of your second brain that lives in your gut, known as your Enteric Nervous System. There have been stunningly similar comparisons being drawn between the brain in your head and the brain in your gut.
You have approximately 100 million functioning neurons in your intestines known as your Enteric Nervous System. These have the task of controlling your digestive system. Your gut generally works on its own entity but is in regular communication with your brain and central nervous system via the vagus nerve.
The network of neurons in your gut are just as complex and numerous as the neurons in your spinal cord. New thoughts are emerging that the complexity of this network of neurons may be present not just to manage digestion, but to also listen to numerous microbes that live in your gut.
What are the microbes?
Just like any ecosystem, your gut is an environment where species compete and the environment dictates which inhabitants thrive. There are billions of microbe cells per gram of intestinal content. The guts microbes play a role in defending against disease causing organisms, developing immune protection, and create a link to your brain. The link between your gut and your brain is known as the gut-brain axis.
The gut-brain axis
The gut-brain axis is the direct link between your Enteric Nervous system that runs your digestion and your brain. The linking structure is the Vagus nerve, this includes your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system (see previous newsletter for information on the divisions of your nervous system). There is recent evidence to indicate that information from your gut can influence your brain and vice versa – like a two way street. Your gut sends messages to your brain about the status of your gut to allow your brain to control food transit time, secretions and which microbes inhabit the digestive tract. Your brain sends messages to your gut about its perception of the outside world and behaviours that impact your eating habits.
Your microbes are thus flexible to change according to your diet, stress and other factors that impact your habits or emotions. The composition of your microbes changes over time, when diet changes and as your overall health changes.
The Two Way Street
We often talk about our “gut feeling” or “trust our gut instinct” when making difficult decisions – turns out our mind-gut connection is not just metaphorical. Our brain and gut are connected by the brain-gut axis or superhighway of neurons, chemicals and hormones. They relay messages about hunger, stress or even if we have a disease-causing microbe. When you experience “butterflies in the stomach” this is your brain in your stomach talking to the brain in your head. When we feel nervous or fearful, blood gets diverted from your gut to our muscles and this is our way of our stomach protesting and your body preparing for a fight or flight situation.
Research has shown that low grade inflammation in the gut created by unhealthy eating habits and a ‘sick’ gut has a direct influence causing low grade inflammation on the brain. This low grade inflammation surrounding the brain has been linked to neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease, dementia and ADHD in kids. More information can be found in David Perlmutter’s book Brain Maker.
How does your gut influence your emotions?
The Enteric Nervous System may trigger emotional changes in people with gut conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, pain and general tummy upset.
It was originally thought that anxiety and depression contribute to these problems but more recently scientists have found new evidence to suggest that gut irritation may send messages to your brain and central nervous system to trigger the mood change.
Our gut has direct connections to our limbic brain which is a part of the brain that is in charge of our emotions. This may explain why people with gut issues like IBS have a high likelihood to also experience anxiety or depression. It is also interesting to note that only 5% of serotonin- the happiness hormone- is produced in the brain. The other 95% is produced by your second brain in your gut. Many drugs treating anxiety and depression work by modifying the levels of serotonin in your body.
At Spinal Symmetry, we aim to treat your body as a whole from a global perspective of the bigger picture. With manual treatment of your hips and pelvis and the use of Dynamic Therapy we are able to create an integral foundation for your spine which also impacts the structures above and below this level. This has an important flow on effect to the health of your gut, as the nerve supply coming from your lumbar spine creates your Enteric Nervous System. This supplies your gut with all the neurons in charge of digestion, the microbe health, and thus further communication with your brain about the status of your gut.
This new emerging information is at the front line of how important a healthy diet and lifestyle is to maintaining overall health and well being.