What is our second brain? The Gut and Brain Connection

Have you ever felt cramps of butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous, or a dramatic change in appetite patterns due to sadness or anxiety? It is very common for people experiencing emotional distress to notice gastrointestinal discomfort, few people realize that the reason for this is because the gut and brain are closely connected. 

What is our second brain? The Gut!

The gut is also known as our “second brain”, because like our brain, it is composed of a complex network of neural tissue called neurons. Our “second brain” can function independently and in coordination with the central nervous system. In fact, it is estimated that there are 200-600 million neuron systems in the human “second brain”. While our central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord, our “second brain” consists of the system of neurons which stretch across our digestive system. Our digestive system starts from the esophagus, through our stomach, down to our small intestine, bowels and terminating at the anus. It is composed of several layers of muscle and tissue. As food moves through our digestive tract, it comes into direct with the mucous membrane; this is where digestion occurs. In the layers beneath, there are networks of neurons which collectively form the “enteric nervous system”. 

 

The Gut and Brain Connection

This system of communication between the gut and the brain is so well developed that there are three channels through which it is known to communicate: the nervous system, endocrine and immune signalling mechanisms. The nervous system communicates via electrical signals and release of neurotransmitters which transmit messages between neurons, the endocrine system communicates via hormones which act of specific cell types and receptors, while immune system communicates via secretion of proteins such as cytokines and chemokines which function as molecular messages. Furthermore, the highway for communication goes both ways: our brain sends information to our gut, and our gut does the same. The implications of the gut and brain connection is a rich and fascinating developing area of research with immense and meaningful implications on our mental, emotional and physical health. 

 

What is the implication?

The gut and brain connection means that the gut communicates extensively with the brain, and the brain sends signals to affect the gut’s functions. Thus, optimizing our gut health can not only support digestion, but almost our cognitive, emotional health and wellbeing.  Conversely, our mental state can affect digestion, absorption and digestive functions. 
 Most people have experienced the gut-brain connection at work in acute situations of stress and anxiety. For example, our stomach feels knotted and/or we lose of appetite before public speaking, deal with a difficult situation or struggle to meet an important deadline. Furthermore, psychological conditions such as abnormal levels of anxiety have been strongly associated with inflammatory digestive diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In fact, while around 18% of adults are affected by anxiety disorders in the United States, astonishingly 40% of patients with IBD have been found to exhibit abnormal anxiety levels. This is in part due to intimate connection between the gut and the brain. 
Not all gastrointestinal problems are due to emotional and psychological distress, and often there are multiple factors that affect our gut and mental health and wellbeing. However, for many it could be an effective point of intervention with profound and widespread health benefits. Several studies have found that psychological approaches to reduce stress and anxiety has led to a significant improvement in digestive problems, compared with those who received only medications for treatment. Conversely, microorganisms in our gut affect our brain and central nervous system. Many research studies have found that dramatically modifying the gut microbiota composition through antibiotic administration or fecal transplantation has been shown to affect cognitive functions. Specifically, studies have found significant changes to stress response resulting from alterations to gut microbiota, relating to stress responsiveness, anxiety. There have also been many clinical studies (in humans) which reveal that probiotics can affect mood, help reduce stress and anxiety symptoms etc. In fact, some studies have found that introducing healthy strains of bacteria in the gut has helped to reduce anxiety-associated behaviours. Thus, changing the environment of your gut has an impact on your mind, brain and body! 

 

Why Juice Cleanse and Intermittent fasting are good for the Gut health?

Juice cleanse and intermittent fasting is an eating regimen which involves fasting over a set period of time. Simply put, it is “time-restricted feeding”. Many studies have found that intermittent fasting is generally a safe and effective procedure, and can help promote healthy weight loss, cardiovascular health as well as improve gut health. It has been suggested that the process of intermittent fasting promotes a healthy gut microbiome by affecting the composition of residential microorganisms. Cold-pressed juices are often used for the juice cleanse which is popular in North America. Cold-pressed juices are made without heat or oxygen to retain maximum nutritional value of all the fruits and vegetables. We can get roughly two to three pounds of fruits and vegetables from 500ml bottle on average. In most cases, western juice cleanse is done for the purpose of weight loss. On the other hand, Japanese style juice cleanse called Koso Cleanse not only helps manage weight, but also helps to support the gut and digestive processes, improve skin health, strengthen the immune system and to promote an overall good health as it is using Koso drink instead of cold-pressed juice. Koso drink contains not only nutrients from fruits and vegetables, but also prebiotics, probiotics, and enzymes which are important to reset and improve our gut health. 

 

How to improve The Gut and Brain?

Through psychological therapy and practises that strive to reduce stress, such as “mindfulness meditation, nature bathing, affirmation, and light exercise such as walking, yoga, pilates, and streching.”, we may see an improvement in our digestive issues. Conversely, trying to improve our gut health by eating a healthy and balanced diet provides us prebiotics, probiotics, and enzymes. For example, fermented foods such as saurkraut, natto, koji, miso, yogurt, kombucha, and kefir. R’s Koso contains prebiotics, probiotics, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals derived from over 100 kinds of fermented fruits and vegetables. Taking probiotics and whole-food digestive support products such as R’s Koso may improve our mental health. 

 

Resources : 
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6047317/
https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29698377
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3845678/
https://gut.bmj.com/content/47/suppl_4/iv15
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4376063/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4376063/
https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
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