One of the most fascinating developments in the field of nutritional science in recent years has been the discovery of the enteric nervous system, known as the “gut brain” or the “brain in the belly.” Although we’re used to thinking of the brain in our head as the commander in chief of our body systems, as it turns out, many of our digestive processes are designed to be regulated locally, by a complex and highly intelligent network of neurons woven throughout the stomach, intestines, and other organs. Unfortunately, many of us habitually ignore the messages that our gut brain sends us, and so we miss important cues about how to best nourish our body. In this new video from #IPEtv, Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, explores the astonishing science of the brain in the belly, and shares some practical tips for tuning in to this untapped source of wisdom!
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Here is a transcript of this week’s video:
Hi, I’m Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.
Modern medicine understands the brain in your head to be “command central” – the place from which our entire life receives its marching orders. But there’s another kind of intelligence that’s an equally potent metabolic force. Some call it the “gut-brain,” others prefer the “brain in the belly,” but whatever you call it, it’s way smarter than you might ever have imagined. Putting this extra brainpower to work can forever change your metabolism, and your life.
Have you ever had “butterflies” in your stomach?
Have you ever been moved by a strong and undeniable “gut feeling”? Gut feelings are highly regarded as a source of intuitive knowing and insight in many cultures around the globe. And as it turns out, gut thoughts and feelings are not a fanciful notion but a physiological fact.
Rather than just the one brain found in our head, scientists in the field of Mind Body Nutrition have shown that we actually have two brains – the other one is located in the digestive tract. Officially known as the enteric nervous system, or ENS, the gut’s brain is housed under the mucosal lining and between the muscular layers of the esophagus, the stomach, and the small and large intestines. The enteric nervous system is a rich and complicated network of neurons and neurochemicals that sense and control events in other parts of the body, including the head brain.
The gut-brain contains over one hundred million neurons.
That’s more than the number of nerve cells in the spinal cord. We’re talking about a huge source of potentially untapped intelligence. What’s fascinating is that researchers have observed a greater flow of neural traffic from the ENS to the head-brain than from the head-brain to the ENS. In other words, rather than the head informing the digestive system what to eat and how to metabolize, the locus of command is stationed in the belly.
The entire digestive tract is also lined with cells that produce and receive a variety of neurochemicals, the same substances that were previously thought to be found in the head-brain alone. These include serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and glutamate. And many hormones and chemicals previously thought to exist only in the gut were later found to be active in the brain.
Another compelling discovery is that the entire digestive tract is lined with specialized cells that produce and receive endorphins and enkephalins, chemicals that produce sensations including joy, satisfaction, and pain relief. Most of the digestive sensations we are aware of tend to be negative ones, such as digestive upset and discomfort. Yet, the warm gut feelings we sometimes experience after a satisfying meal or an exciting encounter are, in part, the enteric nervous system squirting pleasure chemicals at distant and neighboring cells.
As many of us know, the gut is often a barometer of our emotional states and stresses.
Those who suffer from peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, or upset stomach would certainly concur. So when we say we can’t “stomach” a situation, or something makes us want to “gag,” Dynamic Eating Psychology explains that we’re actually expressing real-life psychophysiological sensations that arise from the enteric nervous system – the brain in the belly. Perhaps this is why the gut also produces an abundance of a class of chemicals known as benzodiazepines, which are the active ingredients in the prescription drugs Valium and Xanax.
There’s a tremendous amount of brain power in your belly, and such power goes largely untapped. If you think you have a problem because your brain can’t process all the contradictory information about diet fed to you by the media, think again. Your brain isn’t intended to handle all that scientific input by itself. When it comes to food, we are physiologically wired to hear the gut-brain speak its mind. The head-brain plays a supportive role.
Animals instinctively know what to eat. So do we. We just don’t know that we know this. Usually when people decide to focus on the belly, it’s about making the belly tighter or tougher. But let’s make the belly smarter before we make it harder. When we trust our ability to access our gut-knowing, ego-driven fears naturally fall away and our true self-respect is revealed.
Our gut intelligence has been underused, and perhaps even dumbed-down from decades of poor quality food, stressed eating and an ever more toxic world. So it’s time to exercise your gut wisdom. Can you tune in to this part of your physiology? Can you ask your gut for feedback? Do you notice your gut feelings? What does your gut-brain say your body is hungering for? The enteric nervous system has its own unique kind of intelligence that’s different from head brain intellect. Its messages are delivered via subtle sensations, curious feelings, instinct, and intuitions. So, do you have the guts to listen to your gut knowing? And if so, what does your gut have to say to you?
I hope this was helpful!
To learn more about the breakthrough body of work we teach here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, please sign up for our free video training series at ipe.tips. You’ll learn about the cutting-edge principles of Dynamic Eating Psychology and Mind Body Nutrition that have helped millions forever transform their relationship with food, body, and health. Lastly, we want to make sure you’re aware of our two premier offerings. Our Eating Psychology Coach Certification Training is an 8 month distance learning program that you can take from anywhere in the world to launch a new career or to augment an already existing health practice. And Transform Your Relationship with Food is our 8 week online program for anyone looking to take a big leap forward with food and body.