Why You Have Two Brains
The powerful "emotion ⇆ stomach" connection is a common cultural reference:
"Trust your intuition, trust your gut... I’m so nervous, I have butterflies in my stomach... I have a gut feeling to reject this job offer... What a gut-wrenching experience."
This link is now showing up in many cool and interesting scientific ways. With more than 100 million nerves lining your so called "second brain," the gut / enteric nervous system (ENS) is actually composed of the very same tissue(s) as your central nervous system (CNS).
Why The "Gut-Brain Axis" Is Essential To Health
In fact, many doctors are now saying that our deeply intertwined "first" real brain and "second" gut brain (sometimes called the gut-brain axis) are actually one system, not two.
While it can’t do calculus, write a novel, or pass an exam — your gut certainly can orchestrate a symphony of neurotransmitters, hormones, and electrical impulses.
Beyond helping you digest food, your gut has its own brain-like neural network, playing critical roles in keeping you healthy, including regulating inflammation and commanding your immune system.
So, will simply eating right keep the gut-brain axis in balance? Not necessarily. Here we will go into why your state of mind is so critical to gut health, and why meditation is the missing link above and beyond diet.
"Imaginary" Disease: Why The Mind Is Key To A Healthy Gut
To illustrate the mind-gut link, have you ever heard of the guy afflicted with the "incurable, unknown origin" chronic disease? After visiting a dozen or so doctors, they all have one simple but bewildering diagnosis: "it’s all in your head"! This happens much more than we think.
In fact, gastroenterologists have compiled more than 20 of these "all in your head" GI tract diseases (FGIDs), which account for the vast majority of clinical visits.
So, what’s the reason for these mysterious illnesses? Diet? No, because many of these folks have already tried everything, and why the doctor has labeled their affliction effectively "psychosomatic."
Why Your Ability To Handle Stress Controls The Gut-Brain Axis
The culprit is a known offender, sitting atop the health police’s most wanted list — stress.
Even after switching to a healthy diet, stress explains why many "second brain" gut-related diseases still stick around.
Strengthening the link, research has shown that psychological trauma can lead to digestive problems, inflammation, ulcers, IBS, IBD, Crohns, & more.
In light of these new findings, it is obvious that healing the gut is impossible without addressing our ability to manage emotion and stress. How you think does affect your health.
How To Heal Your Gut With Your Mind: Meditation
As the #1 stress conquerer, meditation is the top contender for the "gut-health" championship belt. Who are the other competitors in the ring, duking it out? Probiotics, psychobiotics, diet, and prescription drugs.
(Note: Boxing metaphor aside, when it comes to your highest health, all of the above options certainly have their rightful place, of course.)
Here is one study firmly planted in meditation's corner:
Study: How Meditation Turns Off "Bad" Gut Genes, While Helping 1,000+ More
For 48 patients suffering irritable bowel syndrome (IBD) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a 9 week study at Massachusetts General Hospital changed everything.
Meditation had somehow managed to beneficially alter more than 1,000 genes, including suppressing the nasty protein complex arsonist (NF-kB) responsible for igniting (inflaming) the immune system and GI tract.
Said co-senior study author, Dr. Towia Libermann: "In both IBS and IBD, the pathway controlled by a protein called NF-kB emerged as one of those most significantly affected by the relaxation response."
With monumental implications, meditation effectively disables the genetic trigger linked to so many nasty gut/non-gut related diseases (anxiety, depression, MS, Autism, Parkinson’s, & more), while short-circuiting the body’s endless stress response cycle.
To illustrate the implications, if a pack of mischievous bears were the lone culprits behind your twisted-up micriobiome, then meditation would chase them back into their cave for a "permanent winter hibernation."
Your gut is incredibly important for overall health. Diet, while important, does not guarantee a healthy microbiome. As evidenced by the "gut-brain-axis," your ability to handle stress is (arguably) more important than diet, along with genes.
Luckily, meditation not only dominates stress like Michael Jordan over the '92-'93 Phoenix Suns, but also orchestrates a Mozart-like symphony expressing only your "cream of the crop" genes.
This article originally appeared on eocinstitute.org