The second brain in your stomach
We’ve all heard of ‘gut reactions’ and ‘gut instincts’, but most of us probably haven’t given much thought to exactly what they stand for. Well a group of Nestle food scientists are putting more limelight on these sayings by creating a new range of foods based on gut instinct. But, what is the gut instinct and how can it help us to get healthier?
Your gut or stomach often knows how you how are feeling before your brain. Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach, perhaps before an exam or a first date? Your stomach is a clever and sensitive system that is quick to react to stress, fatigue, joy and a range of other emotions. Taking care to 'listen' to your gut will help you to get to grips with your emotions. For instance if your stomach feels upset and uneasy then maybe there is something going on in your life that is causing this unease. Listening to your gut can help you to understand your own body and feelings and ultimately lead to a healthier, happier and slimmer you.
Often myself or one of the mentors will advise you to keep a food diary or track your food intake. This is to help you identify the foods that suit you and those lifestyle changes that could improve your weight loss and sense of wellbeing. Let’s take a step back here, another way to identify how your body feels and reacts to certain foods or circumstances is to just listen to your gut. The gut has billions of neurons which act as sensors to our body. Our tummy, gut and digestive system are constantly trying to communicate with us, trying to tell us what’s going on in the hope we will react!
Let’s take look at some of the clever ways our second brain talks to us.
Butterflies in the stomach arise when the brain sends a message of anxiety to the gut, which sends messages back to the brain that it's unhappy.
Your gut instinct gives you strong hunger signals. The signals in the stomach are very sophisticated and they constantly communicate feelings of satiety or hunger to the brain. If we actually acted on these signals it would be much easier to control our weight.
Psychological problems linked to the stomach
Irritable bowel syndrome is a nasty condition that can vary in severity. Symptoms include abdominal pain and diarrhoea and around 1 in 5 people in the UK are affected by it. Doctors may dismiss its severity, attributing it to psychological problems, but for the millions of people who have very real symptoms we need more research and evidence into the causes and therapies. The so called second brain or the ‘gut reaction’ is often the cause of IBS. The stomach contains serotonin in the cells lining the stomach, this is a feel good chemical that helps prevent depression. Research shows that people suffering from stress or depression have a much lower amount of serotonin in the stomach compared to those without depression, and they are more prone to IBS.
One such study which shows strong links between stress and the second brain in the stomach was carried out by a gastroenterologist. He found that up to 70 percent of the patients he treated for chronic gut disorders had experienced early childhood trauma like parents' divorces, chronic illnesses or parents' deaths. This may mean that early childhood and what happens in your life, along with your genetic background programs how you will respond to stress for the rest of your life.
Antidepressants like SSRIs, when used in doses too low to treat depression, are effective immediately in some IBS patients. If you’re stressed or suffering from IBS then think of ways you can relax – perhaps an activity such as Pilates, yoga or a massage. Knowing that the gut and brain contain a lot of the same chemicals might give us a greater insight into potential cures for digestive diseases.
It is important to treat our stomach and brain with equal respect. In the same way as your brain can need a little help every now again, so can your stomach. Your stomach and brain are entwined together and if you don’t eat right and treat yourself properly your mental health and digestive health may suffer.