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What Is The Enteric Brain


What Is The Enteric BrainLocated within the abdominal walls are approximately one hundred million neurons that are part of what is called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). You may have also heard it referred to as the second brain or the gut brain or enteric brain. While it is not known at this moment to create logical and linear thought like our primary brain, it impacts our life in significant ways each and every moment of our day. Learning to keep this in optimal health will help us deal with all that life throws at us. If our Enteric Nervous System is in balance, our autonomic nervous system is happy, and likewise if the autonomic nervous system is in balance, the Enteric Nervous System is happy.

Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach or felt choked by your emotions? Maybe you struggle with health conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, constipation, depression, or overall stress in life. If these things apply to you, then you may want to consider how healthy your enteric brain is. For most people, it is something that they know very little about and for those that understand it, very little has been done to balance this system in conjunction with your autonomic nervous system. There are specific techniques that can be done to help balance this entire system, but first, let’s discuss what the Enteric Nervous System really is and how it impacts the autonomic nervous system of our mind and body.

The Enteric Nervous System is a sheath of neurons embedded in the walls of alimentary canal, lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestines and large intestines. The alimentary canal is about 30 feet long from the opening of the mouth to the anus. The vagus nerve has receptors located on the pharynx, larynx, carotid body, and the thoracic and abdominal viscera. Of the vagus nerve, 90% of the nerve fibers carry information from the gut to the brain, not the other way around.

Even though the Enteric Nervous System can function on its own, independent of the brain and spinal cord, it communicates through the autonomic nervous system. There are two main parts of the autonomic nervous system, which include the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic is the stress and survival response. When you are under stress loads, or you find yourself in a frightening and scary situation, this system kicks in to help your body and mind meet the demands that are being placed upon it. In these moments, your body speeds up your heart rate, increases your blood pressure and of course shuts down the digestion in the enteric brain. It also increases fat storage, especially around your abdominal area as a protective measure, decreases metabolism while increasing glucose, cortisol, and adrenaline production. During times of high stress or moments of alertness, the brain will tell the gut brain to shut down. After all, if you’re running for your life from being chased by a mountain lion, I don’t think you are too concerned in that moment about digesting the food you ate for lunch. It is a matter of survival at this moment, not the rest and repair functions that bring balance to your body.

The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, is often considered to be rest and digest or rest and repair. The vagus (vagal) nerve is responsible for the relaxation response. It facilitates digestion and motility within the intestines. In addition, it increases fat usage and insulin sensitivity. When the Enteric Nervous System or Enteric Brain is under parasympathetic or vagal control, food is processed efficiently and metabolism is enhanced. The body is in a state where it is in balance and at harmony with itself. All too often in our world, we do not reach these deep states, or if we do they are not fully connected to the mind and body through the felt sense.

It is important to understand that more than 30 neurotransmitters reside in the enteric brain. Some of these include acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin, glutamate and nor epinephrine. In fact, more than 90% of the serotonin and 50% of the dopamine found in the body is produced in the gut brain.

The good news is that we can work with our enteric brain to enhance our physical health and also help us see the bigger picture of awareness and consciousness in our life. By applying a connected touch to the abdomen using biofeedback, we can entrain the autonomic nervous system with vagal relaxation to respond to conscious or mindful control. The more we do this, the more we tune in to our bodies and interact with not only our gut brain, but our felt sense. As this happens, we are consciously affecting our mind and body in ways that may normally seem impossible.

This is not a difficult procedure to do, but it does take one going into their body in a mindful way and connecting through the felt sense. If someone was only going through the motions of this procedure, there would not be the degree of conscious connection as when they are truly feeling what is happening within the body. The important part is that in the beginning, this process needs to be done daily in order to entrain the gut brain with the feedback to our consciousness. It is the repetition that allows the autonomic nervous system to be trained and awakened.

Healing the mind body within each one of us is ultimately about learning to increase our awareness and becoming more conscious in this world. The evolution of our life and our species is the point we all should be focused on. There are built in biological parts of our mind body connection such as the Enteric Nervous System and enteric brain that are designed to take us deeper into our own life, past the fears and towards consciousness. When we learn to harness the ability within our enteric brain, it is then that a whole new world opens up to us, full of discovery with a deeper peace and deeper meaning for our life.

 

Resources and More Information

 

Dr. Paul Canali

 

Dr. Michael Gershon

  • Columbia University Medical Center
  • Author of the book, The Second Brain
  • Chairman Of the Department of Anatomy And Cell Biology

 

Dr. David Wingate

  • Professor Of Gastrointestinal Science At The University Of London

 

Scientific American

 


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