05 Mar The Second Brain: How Your Gut Influences Your Entire Body
Written and shared by Lifebook Member and health and nutrition expert, Jason Moore
You know those “gut feelings” you get (the ones you ignore most of the time)?
And those “pits in your stomach” you get when you’re under stress (the ones you let stop you most of the time)?
Yeah, me too.
You may not realize it, but you actually have a second brain in your gut (also known as the enteric nervous system) which actually has a lot more to do with your feelings, performance, and experience in life than the brain located within the six inches between your ears does.
The enteric nervous system, which is sometimes considered part of the autonomic nervous system and sometimes considered totally independent, also governs the function of the gastrointestinal system (your digestion and elimination).
Here’s why that’s important…
Digestion and elimination problems are at the root cause of all symptoms of all disease.
Healthy digestion and elimination are the foundation for extraordinary physical, mental, and emotional health and fitness in primates like us.
Therefore, supporting the enteric nervous system and the health and proper functioning of your digestion and elimination must be the primary focus of any health or healing strategy you take on and maintain.
I first heard about “the brain in your gut” from an article written by Tom Staverosky – an expert on natural therapy for migraine headaches – in which he shared some research from a book titled, The Second Brain – Your Gut Has a Mind of Its Own, by Dr. Michael D. Gershon, MD.
Some of the more important things I pulled out of Dr. Gershon’s book, include:
- 95% of your serotonin is made in your bowel (and in the central nervous system, serotonin plays a key role in regulating emotions like anger, feelings of aggression, body temperature, overall mood, sleep, sexuality, reproduction, appetite, metabolism, nausea, and much more).
- There are more than a hundred million nerve cells in your small intestine, which is a number roughly equal to the number of nerve cells in your spinal cord; add the nerve cells of the esophagus, stomach, and large intestine and you have more nerve cells in your digestive system than in your spine.
- The enteric nervous system is a vast chemical warehouse holding every class of neurotransmitters (facilitators of communication between neurons and body cells and therefore all performance and experience) found in the brain; and the extent of neurotransmitters found in your bowel suggests that the “language” spoken by the cells there is rich and “brain-like” in complexity.
- The local nervous system of your gut has properties like your brain and spinal cord, and is largely independent of the central nervous system in fact, if you cut the connection between the brain and your gut, your gut will continue functioning on its own.
- The enteric nervous system actually has more in common, chemically and structurally, with your brain than with the rest of the peripheral nervous system does and, as a result, illnesses though to only occur in the brain and associated symptoms, also involve the enteric nervous system (or health or your bowels and digestive tract).
Therefore, the way you think, feel, drink, and eat all have an effect on your biochemistry and, in turn, the quality of your digestion, assimilation, and elimination; and your digestion, assimilation, and elimination, in reverse, have an effect on your biochemistry and, in turn, the way you think and feel, as well as, what and how you eat and drink.
Said differently, how you “feel” and “perform” — your emotions, mood, energy, sexual performance, reproductive functions, appetite, metabolism, and so on, are all directly related to a healthy intestinal tract, proper digestion, proper assimilation, and proper elimination; and it’s a two way street…
Stress and emotions can affect your digestion and elimination and your digestion and elimination can affect your emotions and ability to manage stress.
And stress, my friend… WILL F*CK YOU UP.
A distinction I originally got from Vegan Ironman Triathlete and author of Thrive Diet and Thrive Fitness, Brendan Brazier, is that any form of stress you have in your life — whether emotional, psychological, or physical (such as the “mycotoxic oxidative stress” that comes from acidic foods and drinks and recirculating metabolic waste… stress that comes from your marriage, family, and relationships… any work or environmental stress… and even so called “good stress” like exercise) — always lead to higher cortisol levels (the stress hormone).
ALL stress reactions, whether “good” or “bad,” lead to spikes in cortisol.
This initially gives you energy (historically, stress was a signal for fast action that protected us from danger), but it’s NOT clean or lasting energy.
To make matters worse, these cortisol spikes also shut down the proper functioning of digestion and elimination, making it difficult to enter into delta or REM sleep (which is the deep, rejuvenative phase of sleep and the only time your body rebuilds and repairs itself), and causes you to wake up feeling un-rested, which leads to craving energy from stimulation (coffee, refined sugar, refined starch, and so on) in order to fire off the adrenal glands and boost short term energy.
Additionally, there are other hormones that get activated and go up when you’re tired that literally give you the illusion that you’re hungry, and this also leads to even more cravings for sugary, starchy, and stimulant based foods. Overindulging in stimulants then leads to even more stress and even higher levels of cortisol and other hormones, putting you into a vicious downward spiral.
Brendan Brazier found through his own research and experience that “when you’re well nourished and lower stress, cortisol levels come down naturally and, in the long term, you need less sleep, gain more energy, and can experience faster recovery.” The more tired you get, the worse you sleep, especially where there’s a lot of physical stress – then people try to add more sleep, which treats the symptom rather than the cause.
Eating better and getting enough nutrients, however, goes right to eliminating the cause of this breakdown.
He also points out that having high levels of physical and/or psychological stress, burned-out adrenal glands, and chronically elevated cortisol can cause other problems in regards to weight loss and muscle gain.
When cortisol is high, you cannot build muscle and lose body fat.
This might cause you to cut back on how much you eat (focusing on reducing calories) and to over-exercise.
However, he also distinguished that “when you cut back on how much you eat, you then get less nutrients which your body needs to rejuvenate, repair, and function, and with less nutrition, the body holds fat in response and weight gain occurs, and usually at a faster pace.”
Exercise is both psychologically stress relieving (balances volatile energy and emotions) and physiologically stress inducing (breaking down muscle tissue that needs to be repaired).
Therefore, if you have high stress, poor nutrition, and high cortisol levels, you may need to transform your diet first by focusing on “high net gain” nutrition (live, alkaline green juices and smoothies anyone?) and keep away from any high intensity exercise, focusing instead on “passive” exercise (like deep breathing and infrared saunas) and light aerobic exercise (like walking or rebounding), until you get stress levels and cortisol down and back into balance.
At the same time, whatever goes in must be either assimilated or eliminated, so you have to focus on the health and fitness of your digestion and elimination or nothing else will matter.
Another key distinction about weight gain is that the body puts on fat in response to the over-acidification of the blood by creating fat cells to be used like parking lots for acidity that must be moved out of the blood to maintain a normal pH. Poor digestion and poor elimination equals more acidity, and more acidity equals more fat.
By improving digestion and elimination and alkalizing the body, you can reduce stress, balance hormones, improve sleep, have healthier skin (your largest eliminative organ), and much more easily drop weight in a healthy way, while increasing energy and resources at the same time.
If zero energy equal no physical life, then the more energy you have, the more health and vitality you have; therefore, anything that takes away from your body’s energy is disease-producing, and anything that contributes to your energy is health- and vitality-producing.
Digestion happens to use more energy than any other body process, even when it is functioning normally, therefore it’s critical to eat foods that are easy to digest and provide “high net gains” – meaning foods that make more energy and nutrient deposits than withdrawals.
What are easy to digest, high-net-gain foods? Is it simply organic and whole food? Or is it more than that?
Unfortunately, just because something is labeled organic or considered a “whole food” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best for you, or even good for you — I often tell people that you can kill yourself just as quickly in the health food store as you can in the convenience store.
What we need are foods that support proper digestion and elimination, balance biochemistry, and provide resources for building healthy blood (more on that in a moment).
The kinds of foods that make the biggest difference are live, alkaline, water-rich, fiber-rich, healthy-fat-rich, and quality-plant-protein-rich foods that are also organic and whole.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to go extreme and become a total vegetarian, vegan, or raw foodist (this too often leads to excessive consumption of starch and sugar, which is just as destructive). However, it does mean that if you want to stay alive and thrive long term, you need to learn how to incorporate delicious, gourmet, alkaline, vegan, raw, plant-based foods into your existing diet.
BLOOD CELL PRODUCTION
Have you ever done any gardening, or kept houseplants?
What do think would happen to a plant if its roots got damaged or destroyed? They would wither and die, right?
Just like plants, your body also has a root system that is just as critical to your health and well-being as a plants roots are — and its called the small intestine.
You have 7,200 square feet of surface area in your small intestine, which is a third of a football field, and that surface is covered with what are called microvilli, which look similar to an anemone in a fish tan or an ocean reef.
Microvilli contain blood vessels and lymphatic lacteals and, if you’re chewing and digesting properly after eating and drinking, and as long as the microvilli are healthy, then colloids (tiny particles) of nutrients with electrical potential get absorbed through the microvilli and carried into the blood stream.
These colloids then go on to create what are called erythroblasts, which are precursors to red blood cells; and red blood cells are like the “master stem cell” because all other body cells are born from them (think about when you cut your finger and get a scab; the coagulated blood becomes new tissue as the damage is repaired).
But wait a damn minute… isn’t it common knowledge that blood cells are created in the marrow of your bones?
Well, yes and no.
It’s true that if your kidneys start receiving low amounts of oxygen, some of their cells stimulate the activation of a hormone known as “erythropoietin” that then travels to your red bone marrow and stimulates increased production of red blood cells.
However, that’s only part of the story. Here’s the rest…
In 1952, four physiologists (Jordon, Donn, Sabin and Cunningham) did a two-week starvation experiment using doves and chickens. After doing autopsies on the animals, they concluded that blood production in the animals was originating from the marrow of their bones.
This was in fact the case, but they missed something very important – they were not normal, healthy animals, but rather starving animals… and what they were actually witnessing was the animal’s reaction to starvation. With no resources from which to build the blood, the body goes into a wasting mode and building new blood through the biological transformation of bone matter, muscle and other tissue.
When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense, because all animals, including humans, would be expected to experience periods of time in nature when food isn’t readily available. Doves, chickens and human beings would not have survived the evolutionary process if they didn’t have some sort of mechanism to continually be able to create new blood during times of scarce food or even starvation.
Similar experiments were also done on rabbits.
It’s known that rabbits have between 5.5 million to 6 million red blood cells and, during starvation experiments, scientists found that if they’re fed nothing, they’ll die in two to three weeks from starvation. What’s interested is, during this period of starvation, the number of red blood cells never decreases to less than 3 million.
So how is it possible for a rabbit to maintain a constant amount of red blood cells during starvation?
How are they able to make new ones without the raw materials that normally come from the food they eat?
Because the rabbits, just like other animals including humans, are able to take BODY cells and transform them into red blood cells – reverse transform them actually.
In fact, it’s been shown that starved rabbits actually have empty body cells when examined through autopsy. The cells of their liver or kidneys (and even the brain) actually become porous in these starved rabbits. This is evidence that, in order to ensure that the all-important blood supply remains intact, the rabbit’s body will use bone and tissue cells to create red blood cells.
Rather than proving that blood cell production happens in bone marrow, all they really proved was that doves, chickens and rabbits produce new blood from bone marrow (among other places) when they’re starving.
So, where is the real primary focal point of blood cell production in healthy animals and humans?
It turns out that scientists in Japan and the United States who have studied the blood and blood cell production believe that, although blood can be created through the bone marrow, the primary source in healthy humans comes from the villi in your intestinal tract and the food being consumed (which should be heavy on chlorophyll because, molecularly, it is almost identical to hemoglobin and believed to be the best resource for blood building).
Think about it…
The proper absorption of nutrients from your food, which is the fuel that keeps all the cells in your body alive, depends on the quality of your small intestine. This alone should be enough of a reason to put the health of your small intestine as your top priority.
If the primary source of red blood cell production is the villi area of your small intestine, then not only does your small intestine create the means by which your food is absorbed and made ready to be transported to your cells, but it’s ALSO responsible for creating the red blood cells that transport the life-sustaining oxygen to all of your cells.
Consider that there is no area with a higher concentration of blood vessels in the entire human body than those that make up the mesenteric vessels and branches around the gut; and there are NO blood vessels in the bone marrow where red blood cells are believed to be created – only tine little capillaries.
Furthermore, the main blood pipeline, which is called your portal vein, runs from the intestines straight up the center of your body, delivering red blood cells to the liver and gallbladder for cleansing and sorting, and then up into your heart and lungs to collect oxygen before circulating out to the rest of your body.
Therefore, what you are drinking and eating, coupled with proper digestion and elimination, is critical for healing and maintaining health – and not just physical health, but mental and emotional health as well.
THE ASSHOLE IN CHARGE
The problem is that there’s an asshole in charge of it all.
When sticky mucus created in response to undigested food matter, metabolic waste, and other acidic toxins builds up in the small intestine, it leads to bowel congestion and causes damage to the microvilli. With this congestive mucus, the microvilli cannot catch and take food into the crypts and therefore blood cell production is negatively affected.
According to Dr. Edward F. Group, founder of Global Healing Center, “Constipation and digestive disorders affect one out of five people in America, and most doctors just recommend drugs like laxatives. Bowel compaction (which is, ironically, often drug-induced) is a serious health concern in the United States.
By the age of 40, the average person has an estimated 10 to 20 pounds of hard compacted fecal matter lodged in their intestinal tract.
Many people are eliminating, but this is matter that has been stuck in their digestive tract for months, or even YEARS! A healthy bowel transit time should be 12 to 18 hours, but the average transit time in Western countries is at least twice that – 38 hours or more.”
Your gastrointestinal system can easily become overrun with toxins from eating excessive amounts of acidic foods, like starchy carbohydrates, dairy products, and animal proteins (especially conventionally farmed meat and dairy that isn’t organic or grassfed) in the majority of your diet, and from not getting into the proper anatomical position to open up the intestinal tract for elimination, which leads to the buildup of acids in the bowel, along with the buildup of mucus (a binder of acids).
Mucus clogs up your small intestine and damages its ability to absorb nutrition. It arrests your elimination by weakening peristalsis (the muscle contractions in your bowel that moves content), which causes congestion and inflammation.
Because the bowel is weekend in this scenario and not functioning properly, when you attempt to switch to a more healthy, plant-based diet or do a cleanse, your body can actually start “detoxing” faster than it’s “eliminating.”
When that happens, acidic toxins get stuck in recirculation (stirred up in the body), which eventually leads to uncomfortable symptoms. This has been referred to as “leaky gut syndrome” because toxins are reentering the blood stream rather than being contained in the bowel so they can be eliminated properly.
That’s why I have my clients focus on deep breathing, alkaline hydration, green smoothies, and green juices – and have them prepare their digestive system by opening up their channels of elimination for several weeks before doing any deep cleansing, so that when they do, they can handle the work load and eliminate just as fast as they detoxify.
By taking out condensed and difficult to digest foods like beef, pork, chicken, dairy products and grains (even temporarily), while putting in massive amounts of alkaline water, leafy greens, green smoothies, green juices, healthy fats, plant proteins, and fiber, you can easily clear out the crypts in the intestinal villus, restore effortless elimination and dazzling digestion, recover the health and fitness of the enteric nervous system, and massively reduce stress while making the management of any necessary stress more effortless.
Just remember, it can take as much as 20 parts of alkalinity to neutralize one part of acidity in the body and 12-16 liters of alkaline fluids per day to repair the small intestine — and that’s exactly why, instead of “fasting,” I recommend “Liquid Feasting” with alkaline water, fresh green juices, green soups, and green smoothies.
Getting your bowels moving powerfully (at LEAST twice per day, and preferably after each meal, and eliminating what was eaten most recently) must be the primary focus of any health strategy; and once your bowel IS functioning properly, then your liver, lymphatic system, and other organs and organ systems are released from the excess stress and begin to normalize on their own – that is, as long as you continue to provide the proper resources through a mostly alkaline diet and plenty of hydration.
Herrings Law states that, “All cure starts from the inside out, from the head down and in reverse order as the symptoms have appeared.”
This means that when the body gets the resources it deserves and is able to assimilate and eliminate properly, its like pushing rewind on our biological age and physical degeneration.
The REAL fountain of youth is what you put in and on your body, and what your body is able to actually assimilate and eliminate!
When you don’t drink enough water and instead drink fluids that are actually dehydrating (diuretics) like coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, bottled or boxed “juice,” etc… and when you don’t eat enough live, water-rich, high fiber plant foods, or enough essential fatty acids, and instead eat too many acidic, condensed, dead, cooked, processed or packaged, hard-to-digest “foods” (that require more energy to digest than they contribute – like animal proteins, starchy carbohydrates, dairy products, junk/non-food, and even chemical based medications/drugs) you WILL end up with a “traffic jam” somewhere along the nine yards of your intestines – and where there is no movement or flow of energy, disease occurs.
Have you ever experienced a clogged or backed up food disposal in your kitchen sink? If you were to continue putting food and drinks into it, what would happen over time? The sink would eventually overflow with disorganizing, fermenting, and putrefying matter, your kitchen would begin to smell, and it would eventually begin to affect other areas of your home!
This image is a pretty good description of what happens in your body when you are not eliminating waste effectively – your body has to “take out the trash” through the skin, lungs, kidneys, and bowels – in that particular order.
There are many different methods you can use to support proper digestion and elimination, which include what you drink and eat, quality supplementation, your positioning and posture when going to the bathroom and proper professional care. Just remember that, no matter what you use to cleanse and restore the health of your bowel, it should always be alkalizing in focus and be able to do the job WITHOUT doing any harm.
For supplementation, the choices are basically herbal supplements, mineral supplements, or a combination of both; and I prefer mineral based supplements over fiber based. Why?
Because fiber based supplements are supposed to work as natural laxatives and incorporate things like cascara sagrada and psyllium seed powder among other herbs and binding agents like marshmallow root to trigger the urge to have a bowel movement. However, herbal cleansers that act as laxatives can cause more problems for some people. Psyllium and other “bulking fibers” and binding agents like marshmallow root can expand to many times their original size inside your body, which pick up waste material for your body to expel, BUT this material can end up being too thick to pass and therefore lead to further impaction.
Ok, what about probiotics and enzymes?
Enzymes and Probiotics may be useful in moderation, however, if you start to rely on these and consume them excessively for years, it can further weaken peristalsis (meaning they can make the colon muscles more “lazy,” inhibiting ability to propel contents through the digestive tract) and can even have a “composting” effect on the body (meaning they can further cell disorganization).
One of the biggest challenges with enzymes and probiotics is that many people often end up using them as a “fix all” to counteract an acidic, congestive diet that they don’t want to give up – meaning, they eat like sh*t and then take probiotics and enzymes to flush it out, which is horrible for your body.
The fact is, if your body is getting enough of the right resources (pure, structured, alkaline water, chlorophyll from green foods, alkaline minerals from salt, healthy essential fats, soluble and insoluble fiber, and plant protein/amino acids), proper movement and breathing, and proper rest, then bacteria levels in your body, including your bowel, will maintain balance naturally; especially if you still have your appendix, which was recently found to be responsible for the regulation of gut flora (so I guess it’s not so useless and unimportant after all!).
If you want or need to use enzymes for short-term cleaning, which can be useful, I recommend using an herbal/mineral blend along with a combination of undecylenic and caprylic acid to eliminate bacteria and yeast/fungus; along with yellow dock and some natural plant enzymes to help remove acids, mucus, and undigested foods from the intestine.
But, by far, the very BEST supplement option for effective colon cleansing is a magnesium oxide.
According to Dr. Group, “for truly effective colon cleaning, you must dissolve the solid compaction [in the bowel] into liquid or gas” which is “most effectively done using time-released oxygen (through an oxidation/reduction reaction).”
That’s why my ALL TIME FAVORITE colon cleanser is Global Healing Center’s OxyPowder. Using a combination of oxygen, magnesium, germanium, and citric acid, it literally “lifts out and bubbles away the deep-seated toxic buildup lining your intestinal walls and cleanses the whole digestive tract – not just the colon – while maintaining intestinal harmony for natural probiotic growth.”
The best part about OxyPowder is, it doesn’t require any mixing or drinking of horrible tasting concoctions and it cleanses, flushed and detoxifies your colon while you SLEEP! So, it doesn’t require taking time off from work or interrupting your daily schedule. Plus it can be used safely 2-3 times weekly on an ongoing basis to maintain normal bowel function or to flush out heavy meals after episodes of overeating or eating poorly. Weekly use prevents food from putrefying, fermenting and turning rancid in your bowels, which, again, is what causes toxins to leak into your blood stream and back into your body.
POSITION AND POSTURE
So now you should be clear that “what comes out” (and how) is primarily related to “what goes in”… meaning your hydration and dietary choices. But did you know that “what comes out” (and how) could also have to do with your position and posture while you’re sitting on the john?
The proper posture for elimination is SQUATTING!
A significant portion of your colon, which happens to be where 80% of colon cancers develop, can’t be evacuated in the sitting position. That’s because the human body was actually designed to eliminate in the squatting position!
There is a certain geometric angle required for complete bowel evacuation that adheres to the laws of anatomy and physics. In physics, the law of gravity states what goes up must down; in anatomical law, what goes into the human body must come out – if it doesn’t, then we have bowel problems.
Until the mid-1850’s, people only squatted to eliminate. At about that time in England, a cabinetmaker and plumber devised the toilet, and that’s where trouble began. The modern toilet is not designed to support the abdominal area in the correct geometric angle during elimination, and this has caused many problems. It causes us to leave major areas of the abdominal wall unsupported, causing us to have to bear down to eliminate.
Now, I’m not suggesting you uninstall your toilet and replace it with a “long drop” (what’s what we called the “toilets” we encountered while backpacking through Central and South America, because they were nothing more than a hole in the ground with a step on each side).
In our house, we use a “health step” that’s stored under our toilet and can be pulled out at the appropriate time. It’s basically a framework that holds two steps, one of each side of the toilet bowl, which allows you to assume a proper squatting position while using a modern toilet. We use it all the time and find it works to make elimination easier and more complete.
Here are six advantages of squatting:
- Makes elimination faster, easier and more complete. This helps prevent “fecal stagnation,” a prime factor in colon cancer, appendicitis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Protects the nerves that control the prostate, bladder and uterus from becoming stretched and damaged.
- Securely seals the valve between the colon and the small intestine. In the conventional sitting position, this valve is unsupported and often leaks during evacuation, contaminating the small intestine.
- Relaxes the puborectalis muscle, which normally chokes the rectum in order to maintain continence.
- Uses the thighs to support the colon and prevent straining. Chronic straining on the toilet can cause hernia, diverticulosis, and pelvic organ prolapse.
- A highly effective, non-invasive treatment for hemorrhoids, as shown by published clinical research.
In addition to proper hydration, diet, supplementation, and a health step for proper position and posture, I’m also a big believer of “health-focused professional care”.
Professional colon hydrotherapy, also commonly referred to as a colonic or colonic irrigation, is another safe and effective detoxification therapy that cleanses the colon and promotes the removal of toxic substances from the body without the use of drugs (and is even more effective when you combine it with everything else I have suggested).
According to historians, the practice of colon hydrotherapy (or its basic form, the enema) was first used by the Egyptians as early as 1500 B.C. and have been referenced and documented in many historical accounts and texts over the centuries.
When your colon bowel is blocked by gas, undigested matter, mucus buildup, and resulting irritation and inflammation, this buildup of waste needs to be evacuated in order for health to be restored and maintained.
Using special equipment, a professional trained colon hydrotherapist performs a procedure of introducing filtered and temperature regulated water into the colon to soften and loosen solid waste, which is them emptied from the person’s large intestine, resulting in evacuation through natural peristalsis (which is the involuntary muscle contraction in the intestines that transports food and waste). The process is repeated a few times during a session for the removal of blockages and gas, resulting in a cleaner and less obstructed colon.
I believe that colon hydrotherapy is ESSENTIAL case that can help you clean undigested matter, strengthen your colon muscles, and get them working again – especially when cleansing.
So in conclusion, your enteric nervous system, and therefor your digestion and elimination, is THE MOST IMPORTANT AREA for you to support and care for in order to create and maintain extraordinary health, fitness and vitality – especially since it is directly correlated with the quality of your blood, which is the river of life and precursor to everything else in your body.
About Jason Moore
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