When most people think about the gut, they think of digestion. But that’s just a small part of the picture. The truth is, the state of your gut determines the state of practically every other part of you, establishing you as either the picture of health or a portrait in suffering.
In fact, it wouldn’t be off the mark to think of the gut as your control center. And that’s a fabulous thing because it’s a control center over which you have lots of control! So let’s get clear about all it does and put you back in charge!
It takes guts.
For many people, it’s a big surprise to learn that what goes on in their gastrointestinal system has a major impact on both the functioning of their brain and the state of their emotions. It turns out “having a gut feeling” is a real thing.
The gastrointestinal tract has its own nervous system: the enteric nervous system (ENS). It contains 100 million neurons and runs all the way from the esophagus to the anus. The ENS operates independently from the brain and spinal cord, transmitting information to your brain via the vagus nerve — a cranial nerve running from the brain stem to the abdomen. And believe it or not, the gut informs the brain more than the brain informs the gut (the ENS is sometimes referred to as the “second brain”).
Because the gut is home to more than 90% of your body’s serotonin and about 50% of its dopamine, many depressed and anxious people often experience profound relief when they improve their diets.
Your mood and brain function are deeply impacted by the health of your gut, so how you feel isn’t all about what’s happening in your head!
Immunity is a gutsy thing.
Your digestive tract is also where 80% of your immune system is located. Research has found links between gut health and a wide range of ailments, including obesity, allergies, asthma, and cancer—leading to a developing theory that many diseases stem from an interruption in proper communication between the gut and other parts of the body.
Now, if your gastrointestinal system is central control for your immune system, ground zero for disease prevention is a group of lymphatic tissues found there known as “Peyer’s patches,” thought to be responsible for roughly 70% of the immune system’s general functioning. They work as a surveillance system, analyzing all the food that passes through and then sending one of the following messages to the rest of your intestinal tract: