The Enteric Nervous System- Our Second Brain…

I’ve been waiting to post this for years…

The enteric nervous system, is it more important than we think?

The central nervous system (CNS) and enteric nervous system (ENS) are loosely connected by the vagus nerve in our body, and when this nerve is severed they continue to act independently.  Like our CNS, the ENS makes use of the neurotransmitters serotonin, acetylcholine, nitric oxide, and dopamine and is nicknamed the “second brain”.  This is why pharmaceuticals that regulate our neurotransmitters often affect our digestive tract.

The ENS does not help with any great thought processes but contains more neurons than either the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system.  It also contains motor and sensory neurons that communicate directly with the CNS.

There are many diseases of the ENS that mimic diseases of the CNS.

  • For example, in Alzheimer’s, plaques manifest in both the brain and intestines and with Parkinson’s, Lewy bodies appear in both structures as well.

The alchemy of the ENS is complex, taking what you eat, releasing the corresponding enzymes, and breaking it down into building blocks that your body uses to thriveCould this complicated system have evolved to only handle digestion?

Recently, it was found that 90 percent of the fibers in the primary visceral nerve, the vagus, carry information from the gut to the brain and not the other way around.  It is fair to hypothesize that a big part of our emotions are influenced by the nerves in our intestines.

That gives a whole new meaning to you are what you eat.

95 percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the bowels and Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a result of too much serotonin in them.

The blossoming field of neurogastroenterology is looking at the effects of retained serotonin in diseases like osteoporosis, autism, multiple sclerosis.

The ENS and bacteria in our gut regulate our body’s immune response and this seems to be accepted lately.  We see all the time people who are put on long term antibiotics or take them often end up getting sick faster and easier.  Antibiotics kill the normal flora in the gut which is your last line of defense. 

Amazing that we know so little about this system and how it affects our entire nervous system.

….. More to come.

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