It’s time to gear up to be at the top of your game at work or school. Yet few of us realize that being mentally sharp involves supporting both your brain and your gut.
Digestive health has such an impact on our health. Modern gastroenterology suggests that your gut instinct stems from the 500 million neurons¹ contained in the gastrointestinal tract; the network of nerves contained in the walls of everything from your esophagus to your stomach and intestines.²
Enteric Nervous System
That network – the enteric nervous system³ (ENS) – is what is often described as the “second brain” since it is the body’s second largest concentration of nerves; behind only the brain. ⁴ In fact, there are 30% to 40% as many neurotransmitters identified in the gastrointestinal tract as there are in the brain. ⁵
The ENS controls digestion⁶, including the biomechanics of the stomach and intestines and the alkalinity that allows digestive enzymes to work effectively. By producing 95%⁷ of the serotonin found in the body, the “second brain” governs how you react to environmental stress. Serotonin is a regulator of aging, learning and memory, along with many organ functions and growth factors, and affects your overall physical and mental well-being.
The ENS also produces as much dopamine as the brain; important for motivation, motor control and the production of other key hormones.⑩
By working with the brain -- or independently -- the ENS plays a strong role in supporting the healthy functioning of the body.
Protecting the GI Tract
The connectivity between the ENS and the brain is yet another reason why nutrition is so important: The healthier the digestive system, the healthier the body. To be more specific, the healthier the epithelial tissue in the walls of the gastrointestinal tract, the better it will protect the nervous and circulatory systems from bacteria and viruses.
Steps to better digestion
We can reduce stress on our digestive system – and the ENS – by consuming less processed foods and eating more plant-based foods. Incorporating fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kimchi can help increase beneficial bacteria and improve bowel health. Hydration is also important, as is relaxation prior to and during meals. The medicinal mushroom Lion’s Mane associated with optimal nerve health – can assist in the proper functioning of the ENS and the way it communicates with the brain.
By optimizing the integrity of the epithelial lining of the GI tract, nutritional supplements known to enhance tissue health are another avenue towards good digestion.
Everything from mood to decision-making can be affected when the GI tract is inflamed or otherwise under duress. That’s why healthy eating is one way to sustain balance.
Tawnya Ritco, RHN specializes on the relationship between nutrition, lifestyle and vitality and has worked in the natural health industry for over 15 years.
This article is an excerpt from the Herbal Collective Aug'16 issue. To read the full issue and get all new and past issues of the magazine, visit The HERBAL CLUB.
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