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February 17, 2005

There's A Brain In My Stomach!

Ever have a gut feeling about someone? How about not being able to stomach a situation? It turns out we may be equipped with a second brain, and it's in our stomach.

This 'second brain' is made up of a knot of brain nerves in the digestive tract. It is thought to involve around 100 billion nerve cells - more than held in the spinal cord.

The actual connection between the two is called the vagus nerve, a few thousand fibers of nervous tissue that loosely connects the two structures.The brain-gut connection through the vagus nerve creates a complicated relationship between the two nervous systems. A working vagus nerve sends a steady stream of messages between the brain and the gut, with the number of messages going to the brain from the gut outnumbering those from the gut to the brain.

These structures derive from embryologic tissue called the neural crest and still exists because of a vestage brain left over from evolution, one that is still useful to some animals as a defense. This allows them a fight or flight advantage whereby they distract predators by regurgitating their food before they run away.

Stress is stored not only in the muscles, but in the viscera or guts. Irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and, oftentimes, diarrhea are all stress related digestive dysfunctions. Crohn's Disease is probably one of the most extreme reactions to unmitigated stress and is often referred to as an "industrial disease." The implications of this brain/stomach connection is huge for bodywork, especially the burgeoning field of visceral manipulation.

Posted by linda at February 17, 2005 9:09 PM

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