Our Second Brain.
And why it desperately matters.
Recently, I’ve felt somewhat drained.
I’m not sure if it’s the weekend getaway I took, where I put myself under an unnecessary pressure to have the most fun in an ungodly amount of time.
But what I noticed is that whenever I feel that way sometimes, I kinda feel it in my gut. Is that weird?
It’s almost like I can tell “something isn’t quite right”, starting right from my chest to my upper abdomen.
This led me to seeking if there was a correlation between our internal flow and how we feel outwardly. And not just in a weird, esoteric way but in a tangible, fluid one.
It’s how I came across the 4 humours. But also, the fascinating world of gut science — the “second brain”.
A second brain?
Most of us are familiar with the central nervous system — the brain and spinal cord. But what is less commonly known is the enteric nervous system (enteric from the Greek enterikós, from enteron, meaning “intestine”).
It turns out the intestine is much more than food and farts. There’s an entire ecosystem within our gut.
This intricate system within the gastrointestinal tract (from throat to anus) basically consists of nerves and neurotransmitters which are said to be similar to those in the brain — over 100million neurons!
So does this mean these two can communicate?
The Mind-Gut Link
For a while, it was believed that our moods affect bowel movement but it turns out it’s the other way around. Research has shown that irritation in the gut may send signals to the brain that triggers mood changes.
Connected via the vagus nerve, the brain not only sends signal to the gut but vice versa.
This is often triggered by the fight-or-flight response system, which allows our heart race and our digestion speed up when we’re anxious.
But even if this connection is severed, the gut can control its processes because of its own reflexes and senses.
More interesting, however, is the army of bacteria that actually do the groundwork.
We’re controlled by…bacteria?
Known as microbiomes, the gut contains bacteria which are divided into the good and bad guys. Depending on what we feed on, one of these groups emerges and becomes dominant.
There’s circumstantial evidence that our food cravings and the gut bacteria are related. For example, those who are more chocolate-loving have a different set of microbes than those who are chocolate-indifferent. So it’s fine, I guess, I no longer judge you.
But also, since about 95% of the body’s Serotonin (a key player in moods) is found in the bowels, it makes the connection more real. Especially because this is mostly due to these bacteria.
Despite scientific skepticism, it is theorised that the gut can have very real consequences for our mental state.
Take anxiety for example, it’s been shown that gastrointestinal problems can create anxiety and stress. But this also goes both ways as anxiety can make gastrointestinal issues worse.
Researchers on neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, are also beginning to probe the gut for possible treatment answers.
Can neuro-gastroenterology (phew!) solve problems, especially within the mental health field?
As amazing as the “second brain” is, it can’t do complex tasks such as decision-making and reasoning.
“The second brain doesn't help with the great thought processes…religion, philosophy and poetry is left to the brain in the head.” — Michael Gershon
Research is underway for potential behavioural medical treatments for people with gastrointestinal conditions.
“The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain, with profound results.” — Dr. Jay Pasricha
I find it interesting how everything seems connected.
P. S., in periods of anxiety, one thing I’ve found helpful is getting lost in a flow state — these days, via sketching! I recently took to digital illustrations and it’s coloured my days so far (pun totally intended). Decided to elevate my illustrations for these letters so thank you for sticking through the black-and-white phase! 😌
I’ve noticed that when it comes to creative decisions, I tend to “go with my gut”. Working a medical job where my decisions have grave consequences on a patient’s life, I like to reserve my thinking juice for the “bigger” brain. But when it comes to what font to use or which lighting is better in a video, I simply wonder what my “second brain” thinks!
P. S. S., if you’d like to receive bonus content (whilst supporting me as well), you can check out my Patreon.