Have you ever experienced a gut feeling that made you do something different than you were going to? Well it’s not a coincidence. Modern research has started to uncover a mysterious but physical connection between the nervous system and the digestive system.
The nervous system is a complex connection of nerves that if were lined up would circle the Earth four times. Within these nerves lies the foundation of all communication within the body. Nerves transmit chemical and electrical messages to every organ, system, and gland in the body. Once the message is sent, another message is sent back to the brain, and the cycle continues. As long as these lines of communication are free of any interference, the messages can be sent.
Proper health of the nervous system is important for all functions of the body. The interesting connection lies within the digestive system itself.
It is thought that the digestive system houses about 80% of all the nerves in the body. Also noted is that 90% of all neurotransmitters (the chemical part of the message) are produced within the digestive system as well. So it is no surprise that your digestive system has a “gut brain". This gut brain can learn, react, and produce emotions. Think of when you would get butterflies in your stomach from remembering a first love or a song that gets you excited. All of these reactions happen when the brain interacts with the gut brain and vice-versa. It is as important for your brain that your digestive system is working correctly as the digestive system is to your brain health. We often find a direct relation to mental status and digestive health. Many patients with stomach and/or bowel disturbances may also suffer from some form of emotional challenge; be it stress, depression, anxiety, etc.
Many medications that are used for mental/emotional concerns are now used for digestive illness. For example Prozac, a common medication used to help anxiety is now utilized for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. On the other side of this equation is that we may be able to calm mental/emotional conditions through easing the gut brain. Some body techniques that work on the nervous system to help the digestive system are:
- Tai chi
- Chi Gong
- Cranio-Sacral Therapy
There are specific nutritional approaches that can help calm the system as well:
- Specific Amino Acid proteins like Taurine and Tryptophan
- Calcium and Magnesium
- Omega 3 Fatty acids (DHA)
- Dark Chocolate
Many connections between these two systems have yet to be discovered, but understanding the relationship between the two can give us a better perspective on overall mental and digestive health.
Written by Dr. Seth Pearl
© 2009 Hemorrhoid Information Center