Have you ever followed your gut feeling…felt sick to your stomach after hearing bad news…or sensed butterflies in your stomach before a big event or walking out on stage?
Many think that all those feelings are just in your head. I beg to differ! They are in your head, yes, but they are also in your gut!
Our bodies are amazing and amazingly complicated, as well. Many researchers are starting to feel that our bodies are not completely our own.
For every single cell of our body (an estimated 37.2 trillion cells) we have 10 bacterial cells that call our bodies home. In short, our body’s genetic and biological material makes up only 10% of what we actually are. The rest may not be butterflies in the stomach, but bugs all over, making up what is called by most current research, our microbiome.
The majority of these bacteria reside in our gastrointestinal system (aka: the GI tract). Specifically, the alimentary canal, which is the hollow tube that allows passage of food from the mouth through a variety of digestive organs such as the stomach, the small and the large intestines, and then leaves the canal out through the anus. This canal is most heavily involved in the symbiosis of us and the bugs.
Our flora regulates and/or influences almost all functions in our body. Here are just a few major functions of our microbiome:
● Helps to break down nutrients from the food we eat and synthesizes vitamins
● Protects our body from pathogens and breaks down toxins.
● Communicates with the immune system.
● Effects our metabolism and metabolic pathways.
● Possibly affects our sleep and may also effect body fat and development of obesity.
● Impacts development of diseases ranging from inflammatory disorders to autoimmune reactions
● Plays a role in emotional and mental health, including depression and other mood disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorders, anxiety, etc.
Our gut in general, plays an essential role in our health on every level: physical, mental, and emotional. This role is so vital to our well-being that our GI tract possesses its own nervous system, known as the enteric nervous system (ENS).
Nerve bundles make up the ENS. These nerves run within the entire alimentary canal. Think of it as a two-way communication highway between the brain and the gut. Just like the central nervous system (CNS), that contains the brain and the spinal cord, and can make neurotransmitters – our brain’s chemical messengers (like cars on the highway,) orchestrate most of our emotional and physiological responses, the ENS also produces neurotransmitters. For example, only a small percentage of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in gut motility, appetite control, sleep, mood, sexual desire and performance, as well as a myriad of other functions, is made and used by the brain, the rest, up to 90%, is synthesized in the gut.
Other functions of the ENS include:
● Support GI motility
● Stimulation of digestive enzyme secretion
● Intestinal fluid balance and GI blood flow regulation
● Regulation of tight junctions (intestinal “gates” that allow beneficial substances to penetrate intestinal walls and prevent harmful ones from entering)
● Interplay with the immune system
Want to know more?? Come back to learn how the brain is involved in our gastrointestinal functions and what all of this means for our health and management of those butterflies.
*This blog was contributed by our own Yevgenia “Jenny” Libhken, MS, CNS, LDN – Holistic Health Consultant & Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist