Some people are fascinated by space, the infinite expanse of the universe. It is a fascination that is easy enough to understand while looking up at a star-studded sky on a clear night.
But I am going to have to admit that I am more fascinated by the microscopic universe within. Lately, I have come across references to the brain in the gut. From what I understand, this “second brain” is comprised a trillions of micro-organisms, mostly bacteria and millions of cells that line the entire gastrointestinal tract, esophagus to rectum, about thirty feet in length.
Scientists have named this system the enteric (relating to intestines) nervous system, ENS. While it doesn’t seem to have the same thinking capability as the central nervous system, it apparently does communicate with the brain — often and well. The cells of the ENS and the CNS develop from the same tissues in fetal development and their connection seems to be a two-way street with respect to sharing information.
Researchers at John Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology (their work badges must look like billboards!) have found a definite link between mental disorders of anxiety and depression and digestive disorders such as stomach upsets, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. They are establishing that treatments traditionally used for one condition affect the other and vice versa. It’s not worth making this into a chicken or egg problem; they just work together.
The system of all these micro-organisms is referred to as a micro-biome. Many of the bacteria living in our guts are beneficial, even essential to our health and well-being.. The ENS is concerned with digestion from ingestion to digestion to absorption to elimination, but it also is involved in regulation inflammation and immunity. Its working with the brain to do all this.
The thing that blows my puny mind is that this system of multiple tiny organisms function in an organized way as an organic whole. It is as if our bodies are home to a universe of an independent living society. I think about using a telescope to see the outer vastness and then using a microscope to examine an inner vastness.
Of course, I over simplified so you can get the story HERE.