Did you know that you have a network of neurons in your gut that is so important scientists call it the body’s second brain? Yes, your body has a second brain (take a moment to let that one sink in!) – and it’s ability to self-heal not only itself, but your whole body is absolutely astounding.
This second brain is called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) and it is made up of 500 million neurons – about 5x more than those in your spinal cord – that form an information superhighway between your gut and brain. Possibly its most important job is to govern your entire digestive system, listening to the trillions of microbes in your gut and sharing that information with your brain.
It then helps the brain change your gut environment for best health and productivity, managing functions like how quickly your food moves through your system and how much mucus is produced to create an ideal home for healthy microbe levels. This directly impacts things like your memory, your ability to make decisions, your mood and your immune system.
That advice to ‘trust your gut’ is spot on!
“This mind-gut connection is not just metaphorical. Our brain and gut are connected by an extensive network of neurons and a highway of chemicals and hormones that constantly provide feedback about how hungry we are, whether or not we’re experiencing stress, or if we’ve ingested a disease-causing microbe,” wrote Justin and Erica Sonnenburg, PhDs, in an article that shared some of their research after studying how good gut health is a central component for healing and long-term health.
The really amazing thing is that your ENS is an involuntary system, which means you don’t have to think about doing any of this. Kind of like breathing, blinking your eyes or pumping blood through your heart – it just happens.
Imagine if you had to remember to do all of those things yourself!
However, since you can’t consciously make decisions in your gut, it can be easy to forget about. It is vital to start tuning into your second brain – what makes it unhappy, what helps it thrive, etc – in order to promote that ever-important self-healing after a spinal cord injury. But how do you listen to something that you can’t see and don’t consciously think about? Well, it’s actually easier than you think…
The ENS manufactures more than 30 neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that tell your body what to do and feel. Feeling stressed? That anxious pit in the bottom of your stomach is your ENS talking. Nervous? Yes, it’s responsible for the butterflies, too. So, by simply noticing how your body reacts 30-60 minutes after eating, you can start ‘listening’ to the thoughts of the brain in your belly.
“There’s this beautiful dance that happens between the gut bacteria and your own DNA. The gut bacteria actually influenced the expression of our 23,000 genes. Think about that: The bugs that live within us are changing our genome expression moment to moment.” Dr. David Perlmutter, Author of Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect your Brain – For Life.
Your gut actually has the ability to heal you and change your body in huge ways, especially during recovery. This is what we call Eating for Life!
So start by writing down your body’s reactions to foods – whether that’s sleepiness, gas, constipation, headaches, or nothing at all. Then you can work with a qualified nutritionist or a member of our team to help eliminate (safely) or replace foods that aren’t promoting gut health.