There must be something to that “gut feeling”, but what is it?
by Gina Flores, CST LMT CAHP
Have you ever had “butterflies in your stomach”? Well, that sensation of “butterflies” arises because the brain sends a message of anxiety to the gut, which sends messages back to the brain that it is unhappy. As we get nervous or fearful, blood gets diverted from our gut to our muscles and this is the stomach’s way of protesting. All the neurons that line our digestive system allow it to keep in close contact with the brain in your skull via the vagus nerves, which often influence our emotional state. Surprisingly, there are over 100 million neurons in your gut, more than in your spinal cord. And our Enteric Nervous System (ENS), your “gut brain” can function without the aid of our “Big Brain”. No other organ in our body can make that claim!
Most interestingly, 90% of all nerve signals traveling along the vagus nerves come from the “gut brain”, and go to our “Big Brain.” These signals heading north to the brain, directly affect feelings of sadness or stress, and can even influence memory, learning, and decision-making. The ENS relies on, and in many cases manufactures, more than 30 neurotransmitters, including serotonin, that are identical to those in the brain! Research is showing the second brain in our gut may be a potent tool for achieving relief from major depression. Even autism, studies suggest, may be wrapped up in the neurobiology of the brain down under.
Our gut, in fact, is considered the biggest, most important part of our immune system. Gut microbes may communicate with the brain by educating the immune system and even releasing antibiotics of their own! Or by producing their own versions of neurotransmitters. Research is suggesting microbes in our guts might help determine what kinds of brains we have — how our brain circuits develop and how they’re wired. So maybe in fact, it is the microbes that inhabit our guts that we can hold responsible for that old “gut feeling”.
We know that antibiotics and poor dietary habits may have an adverse effect on our gut microbes. Try adding at least one probiotic food to your diet to help support a balance of healthy intestinal flora.
Here is a list: Yogurt, Buttermilk, Kefir, Miso, Kombucha Tea, Sauerkraut and Kimchi.
Prebiotics, the food that good microbes love to eat are important to add to your diet as well, see how many of these you may be eating currently, or which 1 or 2 you might want to add in addition to the probiotics for an additional boost.
Here is a list: Raw Dandelion greens, Raw garlic, Raw or cooked Onion, and Asparagus.
You might also consider having a “conversation” with your gut cells, microbes, nerves and neurotransmitters. A trained and certified CranioSacral therapist can help you dialogue with your body, as we are adept at many skills that can facilitate your “journey inward”. There are so many methods, but here is just one example of what a session might look like: You might be asked to close your eyes and take a deep breath. Imagine you are inside your body and traveling from your stomach into your intestines. Take a look around..….what do you see? How does your “gut” feel? Is it trying to tell you something? “See” if you can “hear” what it is saying. Imagine the Vagus Nerve, which in latin means the wanderer, meandering from the intestines to your stomach and then to your brain. What can you”see” along this pathway? A CranioSacral Therapist might then choose to engage you in a dialogue, under the appropriate circumstances, with a cell, or body part or your own inner wisdom. Remember, our health is a manifestation of the thoughts we hold. While CranioSacral Therapy is a body based therapy, with its historical core in Osteopathic principles, our mind, and thoughts, play a very unique and important role in this work as well.
Take a moment right now, sit in a comfortable chair and take a few deep breaths. Focus on your stomach and intestines. Get a sense of what your internal terrain feels like. What can you “see”? Is there any information that bubbles up for you? Do you need to say anything to yourself? Practice this whenever you have a moment, and see if you can discover that “something about that gut feeling.”
Till the next time, and to your health!