jump to navigation

Neurogastroenterology: The Study of Our Second Brain January 1, 2013

Posted by ToYourHealth in Public Health.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

thEarly in embryogenesis our brains and our gut are formed from the same tissue mass with one half becoming the central nervous system and the other the enteric nervous system, connected by the vagus nerve. Half our nerves are located in our brain, and half in the gut which translates into a lot more than feeling butterflies in our stomach when we’re nervous.

This enteric nervous system is comprised of one hundred million autonomously functioning neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins with the ability to communicate with the central nervous system through the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system. Coupled with the intestinal microbiome, it’s been coined our “second brain” by Dr. Michael Gershon, professor of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City in 1988. What we put into one brain drastically affects the other.

If we add the nerve cells of the esophagus, stomach and large intestine, there are more nerve cells in the gut than there are in the entire remainder of the peripheral nervous system. Nearly every chemical that controls the brain in the head has been identified in the gut, including hormones and neurotransmitters.

Flora, the microorganisms that typically inhabit a body organ, while plentiful, have not evolved enough to withstand processed and junk foods. Intestinal flora is also destroyed by considerable amounts of stress, alcohol, and antibiotics which will leave a body more open to infection.

Brain/Gut Disease States

Nearly 60 million people suffer from digestive issues, often resulting from poor management of the second brain. Many are temporary ill feelings, while others are chronic and debilitating. The brain/gut connection has spurned interest in new research and procedures.

Gastrointestinal: The gut produces 95% of mood-stabilizing serotonin. So when it’s not functioning properly, our moods will show it. Conversely, when brain chemistry is off-balance, the bowels will suffer. Nearly 90% of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and non-ulcerative dyspepsia suffer from some sort of mental anxiety (or worse). These patients also frequently encounter abnormal REM sleep and wake feeling fatigued. These sleep disorders are often treated with low-dose antidepressants, regularly prescribed to treat IBS, depression, PTSD and bacterial infections.

Diabetes: Now epidemic in many countries, diabetes’ side effects can be devastating to the body, and treatment and utilization rates are drowning health care resources. The race is on to find new methods to slow glucose production to decrease related morbidity. Clinical trials show that fats activate a subset of nerves in the intestine, signaling the brain, which then signals the liver, to reduce glucose production. This helps to slow the production of sugar in the body. Now the gut, instead of the brain, will be the target for new therapies.

Anxiety and Depression: Antidepressant drugs commonly cause gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, diarrhea and constipation. This is because they inhibit the uptake of serotonin, normally calming to the digestive tract. Morphine and heroin act on the central nervous system and attach to the gut’s opiate receptors, producing constipation. The gut also produces benzodiazepines, chemicals that relieve pain and are found in anti-anxiety drugs like Valium. In extreme pain, the gut over-produces these chemicals and sends them to the brain. Stress signals are sent to the enteric nervous system, slowing digestion while the intestines painfully contract.

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or heartburn): Prevalence of GERD has increased 50% in the past decade, affecting 20% of adults. Stress, a common cause of acid reflux and chronic heartburn, excites areas of the brain that make esophageal pain receptors more active. These patients often have a drop in prostaglandins which coat the stomach lining and protect it from acid. Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce production of prostaglandins, which is why this class of drug commonly causes ulcers and nausea. Add alcohol to stress, and the increase in stomach acid weakens the esophageal sphincter allowing caustic acid into your upper GI tract.

Settle Your Stomach

Try incorporating these into your lifestyle for good gut/brain health:

  • Probiotics
  • Turmeric
  • Digestive enzymes
  • Kefir
  • Ginger
  • Eliminate fatty foods and caffeine (try calming herbal teas, like chamomile)
  • Stay hydrated
  • Improve posture

What’s your gut feeling?

Related Reading:

Lipman, Frank, MD, (2011) Revive: Stop Feeling Spent And Start Living Again.

The Gut-Brain-Liver Axis: A New Option to Treat Obesity and Diabetes? (www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com)

Foods that Fight Heartburn (www.LIVESTRONG.com)

Tips for Seeing Your Pet Through the 4th. July 3, 2012

Posted by ToYourHealth in Public Health.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment
dogs, pets, fireworks, calm, holiday, vet

My pup, Roxy

Independence Day doesn’t feel so independent when your pet is roped to you with an invisible short leash.

It’s obvious the animals are already anxious about the 4th.

My 4 year-old flat-coat lab sits on my feet whether I’m sitting or standing, and is shaking like crazy every time a firecracker goes off, and can barely bring herself to eat. This is a definite red flag.

Once in a while she runs up to my shower and lies down there. I shied away from sedatives for the big day, knowing my dog would still feel just as anxious, but her bodily reactions would be hampered. I do not believe that a sedative would create calm in my dog. A call to my vet lent me some useful suggestions. Here’s what you can do to avoid medicating your pet and — yes, dependently surviving our upcoming holiday.

  • Spending the holiday with friends? Take your pet! S/he requires a safe and secure environment and mostly this means being with you. If you have a crate your pet is used to, bring it and stow them for limited periods to create a sense of familiarity and normalcy.
  • Keep them in a quiet room with a fan and white noise or background music with a heavy beat to mute external noise. If possible, pair your pet with a calm companion.
  • Keep an eye out. Animals have a keen sense of events to come. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the amazing phenomenon of an exponential amount of “lost pet” ads just prior to the massive quake of 1906.
  • Cool water. Our canine friends will not tolerate heat as well as we do. Do not provide ice or ice water as this will constrict blood vessels, trapping the heat inside. If your pet will not drink water, hose him down and set him in front of a fan. This will likely prevent heat stroke. And, of course, do not leave your pet in a parked car, even if the windows are open.
  • My vet suggested the Thundershirt. I asked about this some months ago and determined at the time that it was ridiculous, but you may want to give it a try. You can find these at pet stores for about $20 and it’s basically an anxiety wrap for your pet that “feels like a hug.” Ok. I’ve been giving actual hugs to my dog for the past week and she is still just as anxious about the fireworks. If you try this, let me know how it goes.
  • My vet also suggested pheromone spray. This has the similar effect of lactose on nursing puppies which gives them a sense of well-being. If you are interested in going this route, you may also want to check into sedatives like valium, Xanax or Prozac. But like I said, I don’t think that’s the best answer. The drugs are not designed to eliminate anxiety, but rather to tamper the natural response, and keep your vet in business.

Do you have other tips? This has been an annual issue with our pets and I haven’t even tackled Tango’s dangerous reactions to fireworks yet. Cats do not seem to be affected by these festivities.

horse, fireworks, holiday, July 4th, Independence day pets,


Please share your experiences and advice in the comments section. Thank you, and happy dependent Independence Day to you! Rock on, USA!

%d bloggers like this: