The Second brain in your Gut
Butterflies in your stomach? Nausea even at times? Or perhaps a little cantankerous when it comes to not eating on time….we do have a second brain in our gut!
The second brain is called the ENS – the enteric nervous system- and it can function independently from the brain in our head. The second brain almost the size of a cat’s brain and it has an amazing amount of neurons (400-600 million) that spread over a surface area as large as a tennis court. These neurons in the gut are open to healing through neuroplasticity with yoga, breathing and meditation. Truly, we have the SECOND GUT BRAIN that can change itself.
It is also important to note that our gut bacteria influences mood and our behaviour. Timid and shy mice that have their gut bacteria swapped with those more adventurous mice changed to show bravery and courage and became more venturesome. It also works the other way around. Brave mice become timid when their gut bacteria are swapped with bacteria of mice that are shy.
Swapping gut bacteria in mice changes body shapes as well! When slimmer mice have their bacteria changed to that of the obese mice, they become heavy and obese, which also is the result of a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is a hormone that makes us seek out fatty foods and helps to calm us when we are stressed, hungry and/or angry. Highly stressed mice had chronically high levels of ghrelin and sought comfort in high fat foods to dull their emotional responses. As we no longer spend our days hunting for high fat foods of prey – try and avoid the urge to have processed fatty foods at hand, particularly when stressed.
Choose omega 3 as your fatty acid of choice. Supplements are not always ideal. Eat lots of fish, walnuts, linseeds and green foods. Make these good fats your first comforting choice over the high fat processed foods such as chips, chocolate and cakes.
Staying calm is important. In yoga asana and pranayama (postures and breathing) we look to soften the belly –our second gut brain. This in turn will soften the mind and produce virtuous cycles in mind-body healing. Those of us who brace in the abdomen may be experiencing more fear or stress on a regular basis. Dr Barbara Fredrickson has found that those people who had bracing or tightness in the abdomen actually experience less positive emotions. The perceived external threat must be high! Softening the belly and the mind with the outbreath and yoga postures is the key. In turn, this will affect vagal tone and will calm us down. In the gut, with increased vagal tone you get increased motility, enzymatic digestion. Not surprisingly, the vagus nerve sends 90 percent of its messages from the gut to the brain and stimulation of this nerve may even be used to treat depression!
To help our gut health we not only stay calm as often as we can, but secondly we keep our gut bacteria diverse and alive!
What depletes gut bacteria and how can we avoid damage?
- Chronic stress in early years can lead to IBS in later years (Our second brain – our neurons in gut will not form correctly)
- Gut infections can change the gut bacteria significantly
- Chemical irritants (Chemical irritants imposed on the gut lining in mice wiped out bacteria and led to mice showing increased signs of anxiety and depression)
- Anti-biotics in the early years should be avoided as much as possible (they kill your gut bacteria)
- Avoid long term stress in later years (Degeneration of gut neurons through stress related illness is not ideal. In a study done observing patients with IBS, 87 out 100 patients had antibodies attacking and killing neurons in gut)
- Emotional trauma and PTSD will be stored in the body, and often the gut. Yoga, Massage and Meditation can help. Trauma expert Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk believes yoga is one of the best treatments for PTSD.
What can you do to create diversity in gut bacteria?
- Expose yourself to diverse range of bacteria in nature (particularly great in the formative years). People who lack diversity in gut bacteria are more vulnerable to disease.
- Get a dog, live on a farm. (City slickers – please come and practice yoga on our farm!)
- Eat organic and unprocessed foods
- Don’t have a huge amount of faith in probiotics, as the ones we find on shelves are not great and often do not even contain what they say or what we need! Certain species of bacteria do have positive effects, but quality is key, so do your research.
- If you are healing IBS – seek out the bacteria used by scientists in scientific trials to treat people with IBS. Living probiotics are best, but it is not yet crystal clear in the evidenced based world whether kombucha, sauerkraut and fermented foods are going to really help you….but they are certainly a wonderful placebo and excellent source of living bacteria.
- Do remember we are looking for diversity of bacteria in our healthy gut ie germs, rather than adding a specific series of good bacteria such as found in fermented foods.
- Keep your immunity high and avoid anti-biotics. Use turmeric, garlic and ginger.
- Breast feed your babies if you have them, albeit a sensitive topic for some.
To conclude…we certainly can heal any condition with a strong mental and physical commitment to some degree. The mind-body connection is real.
Yoga and Integrative Medicine truly is the new frontier that is raising eyebrows.
Spend time focusing on a long out breath in this very moment. Each day – practice yoga postures that will bring tone to the second brain and a deeper awareness. Lying down on the back and squeezing the knees to the chest with a longer exhalation will have this effect. Bastrika Breathing (quick and forceful compression and decompression of the abdomen) provides a mechanical impact on the organs of the abdomen which may potentially stimulate the enteric nervous system of the gut.
Many of these yogic techniques can heal current conditions and alleviate past traumas stored in the body. Complimented with massage, meditation, nutrition, positive psychology and mindful attention – of course we can change the neuroplastic lining of our gut brain…
Truth be known – I believe that the whole body is our second brain. That is incredibly exciting for modern science, but ancient yogic news.
Depression is linked to inflammation and we decrease inflammation with the following diet – fish rice and vegetables.
Seek to increase:
Omega 3 (whole blended linseeds and from from fresh wild caught fish, not fish oil supplements)
Polyphenols (fenugreek and list here)
Link here: cumin, corder and fennel.
RELAXATION RESPONSE & BREATHING
The relaxation response assists with vagal tone, which will surpress the pro-inflammatory cytokines, reduce basal levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and shrink the size of the amygdala (often large when under stress or traumatised). Focus on your longer exhalation or ‘hum’ to reduce heart rate and control heart rate variability and improve vagal tone. Meditate and practice mindfulness to break cycles of stress and shrink the amygdala, which is linked to gut diversity of the micro biome.
Chew slowly and practice Shavasana after meals so the blood flow moves to the stomach, not the limbs
Be free of all tech whilst eating, even reading newspapers and magazines.
Practice neuro-slimming of needed – use smaller plates and bowls with the same amount of food on a larger plates, being the ultimate trick on the mind.
Use your least comfortable hand to feed yourself and slow things down.
Do not eat if you don’t feel hungry.
Massage in clockwise direction over the ascending, transverse and descending colon. Use castor oil, citronella to induce defacation.
Otherwise, use vata, pitta, kapha oil or plain coconut oil as an alternative.
AYURVEDA for your digestion
Vata – Warm foods, avoid cold and dry foods
Pitta – No Heat, chilli, highly fatty, salty foods
Kapha- No wheat, dairy, sugar, cold, heavy foods.
Habitual denial and postponement will lead to weak defamation reflex and constipation. Try and aim for a fixed time of day and early morning is best. Drink warm water up to 1L first thing in morning to assist with bowel movement. This will pay dividends’ when you are older and will keep this defamation reflex strong.
 Barbara Fredrickson radio interview ALL in the MIND ABC Radio
 Thanks to Renee Loxley for her medical science recommendations
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