Not many people realize they have two brains. Yes, you read that right. And your second brain may have more to do with your health that you ever imagined.
We tend to think of our brain as the command center from which all physiological functions stem. But there is another intelligence in your body that you may not realize… and its importance to your health may be the key you’re looking for when searching for the cause of chronic illness and even mental health issues.
If you see a thirty something man with gray hair, or a forty year old woman with balding head, or a fifty year old stroke victim in a coffin, or a sixty-five year old grandpa with shaky hands, or a seventy year old grandma with dementia — look no further than inside their compromised guts. (Gut Sense: How to Restore Intestinal Flora and What Happens If You Don’t)
The “second brain” or belly brain is much different from the brain in our heads. While our cranial brain performs complex cognitive functions, allowing us to process information, apply knowledge, and change preferences, our belly brain is intuitive and receives signals and messages regarding our bodies and the environment that it sends back to our cranial brain and vice versa.
Understanding the belly brain and its functions is often the answer to helping people who are plagued with many problems that are often dismissed by traditional medical practitioners. Your belly brain, known to scientists as the enteric nervous system, is connected to your cranial brain by the vagus nerve. The same brain-regulating chemicals found in your cranial brain have also been found in your belly brain — including hormones and neurotransmitters. It’s estimated that one hundred million neurotransmitters line the length of the gut, approximately the same number found in the cranial brain. (Dr. Gershon, Scientific American: Think Twice)
The belly brain also produces dopamine and 95% of the chemical serotonin in our bodies. Without adequate levels of these two “feel-good” chemicals, we may experience depression, insomnia and other emotional distress. Be glad for these symptoms as they are warning signals—alerts–that tell you plainly to “Listen to me! Pay attention to my gut!”
Our belly brain influences not just mood, but is key to understanding many of our disease processes as well. It’s easy to see why, when you realize that approximately 70% of our immune system is located in our digestive tract. Taking care of both your brains will serve you well in many areas of health.
As Americans, we spend more than any other nation in the world on healthcare. You would think that for this price tag we would be the healthiest people on the planet. Yet we are among the sickest population. Prescription drug use for gastrointestinal and mental conditions is at an all-time high, yet too many people are still suffering and walking around in a drug-induced haze.
Maybe it’s time to look to the cause of the problem rather than simply treating the symptoms. Popping a pill to ease your discomfort may be the easy way out, but it’s wreaking havoc with your health. If you don’t address the cause of your discomfort, the problem will only get worse until it definitely has your attention. By taking care of our two brains, we can greatly influence the quality of our health.
How do you take care of your second brain?
First, let’s look at what we eat. The gut is like any environment–it is only as healthy as what you put into it. There are ten times more microbes in your intestinal biome than you have cells in your body. In fact, these microbes are made up of more than 500 different species and weigh in at somewhere between 2 and 5 pounds! If we produce a good environment for healthy, helpful microbes, we have a healthy body. Sounds easy enough, right?
So what produces a healthy gut?
Unfortunately, we have seen an increasing number of patients in our practice with serious health problems, and many of these disorders stem from intestinal issues. While a different protocol may be prescribed for each patient, there are some basic things you can do to improve the health of your gut.
1. Stay away from chicken and meat that have antibiotics when possible. These antibiotics alter the flora in your intestines. Antibiotics are meant to kill the harmful bacteria; unfortunately, they kill the good bacteria, too, leaving you even more defenseless.
2. Stay away from high carbohydrate intake, i.e., sugar, pasta, rice and grains. They feed the bad flora. Never before in the history of mankind have humans eaten such large amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates, and our bodies are not designed to optimize this fuel on a full-time basis.
3. Stay away from gut irritants. Avoid chemical toxins such as MSG, food preservatives and flavor enhancers. Eat organic whenever possible and avoid foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Gluten sensitivity is an increasing problem in our culture where 99% of the wheat we now consume is a hybrid developed back in 1970 by Norman Borlaug. This dwarf wheat also contained 14 new strains of gluten. It is estimated about 40% of our population could be gluten sensitive or intolerant, and many think this is one of the reasons why.
4. Increase your intake of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, fermented relish, or Kombucha, a fermented tea. Just a tablespoon or two of one of these delicious foods at the start of your meal can populate your inner ecosystem with the good bacteria our bodies need.
Provided by Dr. David Hartz