Maybe you've heard the reference before. Your gut is your second brain. But how can that be when they are anatomically so far away from each other? What does that even mean? Is there a relationship between "having a gut feeling" and your health?
Stick with me for a few moments and we'll dig into this subject together. It's a fascinating subject and not one I would have imagined ended up being so closely tied to so many symptoms.
What is our second brain?
Our second brain is our gut. That's the short story. It's important let me tell ya...I used to take it for granted that the gut was doing it's job. I eat, I poop...what could possibly be the problem?
Let me tell ya part two. If you think at ALL about pooping, or any aspect thereof, your gut could use some love. Gas, bloating, constipation, stomachache, diarrhea, heartburn and even constant fatigue can all point to having some form of digestive distress. You can ignore it, or make funnies about your farts, but trust me. It won't just "go away."
The funny fart jokes you made in your teens, are now a painful reality.
Is our second brain connected to the first one?
Did you ever go through a stressful situation just to end up sick afterwards? For example, you got in a fight with a family member or co-worker and next thing you know it your stomach is turning and your head starts to feel heavy.
You go to bed with horrible anxiety because you still have to go to work the next day or you still have to go to a family wedding to go to and face that person. Ugh, I've been there more than once. I see you.
Just thinking about it turns your stomach. You wake up the next day and you have body aches, diarrhea and you feel a cold coming on. This reference is usually viewed at metaphorical but it's literally...not.
The highway between the gut and brain is paved with neurons, chemical reactions and hormones. It's called the gut-brain axis. It's a busy highway that's constantly telling our brains things like when we are hungry, stressed or about to become ill.
Thinking about stress or experiencing stress, real or perceived, takes a toll on this already busy highway. And even if your stress "isn't real", the toll is the same.
How does the second brain function?
The enteric nervous system is the part of the nervous system that controls our gastrointestinal functions, meaning our digestion. That right folks, everything from smelling your food, chewing, swallowing and on down the line to when you poop, is controlled by your nervous system.
I'm sure this is not something we all think about when we sit down to a meal or roll through the drive-thru, but it should at least be something you are aware of. Problems in the head can mean problems in the gut! Anxiety, depression, stress, trauma...they will all affect your gut, long or short term.
How important is the second brain?
Every cell that makes up every tissue, that makes up every organ, depends on the body's digestive system to provide the nutrients it needs to keep on functioning.
You might need to read that again. I'm saying that if you don't have good digestion, your body is going to start falling apart.
You can ignore that pearl of wisdom if you want, but that won't make it untrue.
It took me years to acknowledge that going to the doctor for symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches and anxiety only lead to a counter attack, via medication, on the symptoms but not actually addressing what was causing the symptoms. More often than not, medication even caused me to trade symptoms.
I didn't always mind the trade in symptoms because chronic migraines just don't let you "get things done." And like it or not, life is going to happen and you still gotta feed the kids, go to work and grocery shop. Either way, please know that I don't say this lightly.
Taking a medication might have been a relief of symptoms but it wasn't a long term solution. Unless I fixed the problem, I was going to continue to go back to the doctor for the same problems. And I did.
My diet, rich in processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar, wasn't serving me. Life was delicious, but I was destroying my body one bite at a time.
How the first brain and the second brain are like your parents.
For the sake of learning, let's pretend!
Your digestion is your Dad 🧔and your brain🧠 is your Mom👩🏾. #notironic
The kids are your gut microbiome 👶. Mom and Dad are grossly outnumbered because your gut has millions of microbiome. The kids are diverse and they rule the roost but we'll talk more about them later.
Digestion Dad is having a party at the buffet line. Now digestion Dad is smart, but he also likes to eat. #goteamDad. You lean toward Dad more than you do Mom, so break out the big plates. You are going to eat whatever you want, whenever you want it. You are your own boss!
Brain Mom says just relax and enjoy your food. Go small and eat your veggies. That doesn't sound like fun but she IS usually right. Still, who has time for that when you smell smoked ribs and Grandma's killer baked beans. Break out the feed bag. This is gonna happen! Mom's voice fades because we eat with our eyes and our hearts.
Then there is dessert. Aunt Jill brought her historic apple pie to the party. Who cares if you have room for that? You will NOT be leaving the buffet line without the apple pie chaser. You might even adorn it with some ice-cream. 'Merica.
You leave the buffet line with your pants button about to go rogue and your plate full. Life is for living large and you want to get your monies worth.
This might even become your new normal.
Fast forward 5, 10 or even 20 years later. Taking advantage of the happy hour specials at your favorite restaurant now sends you flying into the bathroom at breakneck speed. You wake up in the middle of the night. Indigestion and you are BFF's and you must be getting old because your body aches pretty much everywhere, especially that old soccer injury.
While you might get away with this mentality for a day, or all through your 20's and 30's, chances are, it will catch up to you one way or another. Even if you manage to escape shopping a few clothing sizes up over the years, you will more than likely see the repercussions in the form of symptoms.
While my analogy might be funny, antidotal and (sort of) true, I do this all in an effort to help the masses understand how much digestion DOES matter.
Yeah, you heard me. If digestion ain't happy, no one is happy. You can't absorb vitamins, minerals or break down food. It's a domino effect and until you fix step one, everything else is futile.
Ok. You should have listened to your Mom more (aka your brain) but all you can do is humble yourself and admit Mom was right. Inside she is saying I told you so but what's really important is that she (your brain) wants better for you. It's challenging but possible.
The second brain: as defined by the kids (aka the your gut bugs).
Now since digestion Dad has ruled the roost for so long, the kids (aka your gut bugs) are running amok. You have both good gut bugs and bad guts bugs and the ratio of good kids to mentor the bad kids is way outta whack.
To you, this shows as stomach discomfort, pain, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea or all the above. I'll talk more about what all these means in another blog post.
Have you ever seen a parents mood dictated by their kids? Maybe Mom had a crummy day and Dad woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Their kid wakes up and gives them their secret smile and one of those warm, morning hugs. Boom. Everything is all right in the world again.
Your kids (aka your gut bugs) literally tell your brain what to feel, not the other way around. They can't get your homework done but they can affect your mood about doing it. Hey, I don't make the rules here.
To me, that's crazy. Aren't I the boss of me? 💪🏼 Well, kinda. I can't make the choices but I have to trust my body will do what's best to not only survive, but thrive. That being said, I have to take care of it so it can take care of me. If I want to feel good and ditch the anxiety and depression, then I have to get my gut in order!
If you've ever raised a child, or been involved in raising a child, you know it's MUCH easier to get kids to do things right the first time and not just correct the behavior later. Again, it's most certainly possible but it takes time and patience. That means you can get those kids on the right track again.
This might be a funny analogy but it paints you a picture so you can see that all the things are important individually AND together. The family has to be on the same sheet of music or something somewhere is going to fall apart.
You have to pay attention to BOTH Mom and Dad because they are working together for the greater good. And you will pay attention to the kids or they'll end up running the place, and that does NOT lead to you living your best life.
I say things and put information out there into the world so that you can make an informed decision. So you can understand and not live with your head in the sand. I try hard NOT to make decisions out of emotion but education. Guilt makes you feel bad, conviction brings change. I vote for the latter.
Nurture on friends!