Personal Excellence Mentor and Brainwave Researcher
(c) 2004 All Rights Reserved

Ever had a physical sensation that something wasn’t quite right? Or perhaps an odd feeling that a situation was somehow dangerous?

Or have you had “butterflies” in your stomach just before an important meeting or situation?

That was your second brain in action...

“My second brain?” you ask.

Yes. Unknown to most people, we actually have two physical brains. You’re intimately familiar with the brain encased in your skull. But did you know you also have a second brain in your gut?

Actually, over one half of your nerve cells are located in your gut.

And you may be even more surprised to learn that your second “gut brain” contains neurons and neurotransmitters just like those found in your skull.

Plus here’s something that may come as even more of a shock! Just like your primary brain, your “gut brain” is also able to learn, remember, and produce emotion-based feelings.

The expression “gut-level feeling” isn’t just a “saying.” We really do have feelings in our gut.

Our two brains communicate back and forth via a major nerve trunk extending down from the base of your brain all the way down into your abdomen. Because of this, your two brains directly influence each other.

When one brain becomes upset, the other joins right in.

That’s why your stomach might get “fluttery” because of anxiety before an important meeting. Or why a late night spicy snack that’s hard on your stomach might also give you some nasty nightmares.

** The Mystery of the Second Brain
How do we happen to have two brains?

During early fetal development both your “gut” (esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon) and your primary brain started to develop from the same clump of embryonic tissue.

When that piece of tissue divided, one piece grew into your central nervous system (your brain and cranial nerves). The other section became your enteric nervous system (your “gut brain.”)

During later stages of fetal development, these two brains then became connected via a massive nerve -- the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is the longest of all our cranial nerves, and creates a direct connection between your brain and your gut.

Because of this direct brain-gut connection, the state of your gut has a profound influence on your psychological well being.

** How it Works
Your “gut brain” -- known to scientists as the enteric nervous system (ENS) -- is embedded in the sheaths of tissue lining your esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon.

And, nearly every brain-regulating chemical found in your brain has also been found in your gut brain -- including both hormones and neurotransmitters.

In “The Second Brain,” Dr. Michael Gershon, a professor at New York City’s Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, refers to the entire gastrointestinal system as “the body's second nervous system.”

"The brain is not the only place in the body that's full of neurotransmitters,” Dr. Gershon explains. "One hundred million neurotransmitters line the length of the gut -- approximately the same number found in the brain."

Actually, the total of nerve cells in your gut is greater than the total nerves connecting the rest your body to your brain. This complex circuitry allows your “gut brain” to act totally independent of the brain in your skull.

**Your “Sleep-Gut Brain” Connection
As research on the circuitry between our two brains progresses, neuro-scientists are understanding more and more about how we act and feel.

For example: Our brain and gut are so interconnected that both have natural 90-minute “sleep cycles.” In the brain, slow-wave sleep is interrupted by periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep during which dreams occur.

The gut has corresponding 90-minute cycles of slow-wave muscle contractions. But as with the brain’s REM sleep intervals, these cycles are interrupted by corresponding short bursts of rapid muscle movement.

**Your “Stress-Gut Brain” Connection
Little needs be said about the connection between stress and our gut. In many ways, this may be the most visible brain-gut problem of our times.

Anyone who has ever become emotionally upset knows the immediate effect on their gut. Your stomach “ties itself in knots,” rumbles and growls, and stops digesting.

The results include chronic indigestion, ulcers, and a whole host of unpleasant conditions. If your stress is chronic, or intense enough, your colon may even gointo spasms.

**Your “Pain-Gut Brain” Connection
But our “gut brains” also help us in some amazing ways. They are a primary source of pain relief. The “gut brain” naturally produces chemicals (benzodiazepine) found in many pain relievers, and anti-anxiety drugs like Valium.

And like your primary brain, your “gut brain” also has opiate receptors.

“Drugs like morphine and heroin also attach to the gut's opiate receptors,” pain management specialist Dr Michael Loes tells us. “And both brains can become addicted to opiates."

** Mastering Your “Gut Brain”
Many mystical and natural healing practices consider the belly a major center of energy and higher consciousness.

In China, the gentle arts of Tai Chi and Qigong emphasize the lower abdomen as a major reservoir for life energy and health. The belly is considered the “dantian,” a key center for higher consciousness development.

It’s important to have your “gut brain” operating at its best. Start by paying attention to what’s going on in your digestive system.

Remember, your gut is about a whole lot more than just digesting your food -- it also reacts to and digests your inward and outward “realities.”

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Author's Bio: 

Dr Jill Ammon-Wexler is a Personal Excellence Mentor and pioneer brainwave researcher.