Serotonin, Bacteria, and the Little Brain in Your Gut
Did you know researchers believe that 90% of serotonin is made in the gut? Did you also know that you have a whole garden of essential bacteria growing inside of you? Can you guess how much bacteria you have helping you digest food and produce hormones? Three to four pounds according to the National Institute of Health’s Human Microbiome Project.
Having a deeper understanding the digestive system is new, requiring cutting-edge knowledge and technology. We have remained unaware of the full impact and function of the gut because there are so tens of thousands of factors and variables at play, and the scale is microscopic. We will discuss here how recent research is revolutionizing our view of health and the role of the gut.
We know that digestion takes a lot of energy, about 10-20% of caloric consumption is expended to digest food. It is also a major system in the body. From mouth to bum it measures approximately 30 feet long. Equally surprising, the small intestine has millions of tiny folds, down to the microscopic level. So much so, that its surface area is about 2,700 thousand square feet. According to Discover Magazine, your small intestine could cover the floor of a tennis court. This helps explain why total digestion time can take up to 55 hours
Our Internal Garden
In the last decade, there has been an abundance of research on the digestive system. This new knowledge is changing how we view the scope and role of our intestines and mental health.
First off, we are learning that our intestines are a garden of bacteria and microorganisms Within us lives a whole army of organisms that help us have a healthy and functioning bodies.The intestines are host to a complex city with 100 trillion microorganisms. For every cell in your body, you have ten microorganisms! According to the NIH Human Microbiome Project, there are 10,000 microbial species that occupy the human ecosystem.
Microorganisms are welcomed by the body’s immune system because they are of benefit. Lita Proctor says, “Humans don't have all the enzymes we need to digest our own diet. Microbes in the gut break down many of the proteins, lipids and carbohydrates in our diet into nutrients that we can then absorb. Moreover, the microbes produce beneficial compounds, like vitamins and anti-inflammatories that our genome cannot produce.”
Our gut flora helps us digest food and create essential vitamins and anti-inflammatories. Additionally, gut microbes regulate the amount of serotonin produced.The vast majority of the neurotransmitters are created in the gut. Just how much is made depends on what microorganisms are in your gut and how they are communicating.
Equally essential, we are learning that disturbances to your gut flora from your diet, antibiotics and parasites, can cause autoimmune disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, food allergies, and even chronic fatigue. Having a healthy gut is critical to overall health and wellbeing.
Our Second Brain
Fifteen years ago, researchers started calling the gut a neurological organ. An article published in 2001 stated the gut has its own enteric nervous system, “the [enteric nervous system] ENS acts like a brain in the gut that functions independently of the central nervous system, contains programmes for a variety of gastrointestinal behaviours and governs the activity of all gastrointestinal effector systems according to need. Intrinsic sensory neurons supply the ENS with the kind of information that this system requires for its autonomic control of digestion.” The enter digestive track is embedded with neurons to collect information and send information to the central nervous system.
Jay Pasricha is the director at Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology and has gained international attention for his research on ENS, our second brain. He says, “The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.”
It was once believed that individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) developed the disorder because they were depressed or anxious. Pasricha’s research may indicated that it’s the reverse. Researchers are finding that there is evidence to suggest that irritation and pain in the gut may send signals to the brain that set off powerful mood changes.
Understanding that the gut can influence mood is important considering individuals with IBS and functional bowel syndrome have higher-than-normal percentages of depression and anxiety. Moreover, IBS has become a common disease. Thirty to forty percent of the population will have functional bowel problems at some point-in-time have. The gut-brain connection has far reaching implications on how we may potentially treat and prevent IBS and bowel-disorders in the future.
Growing data about the ability of the gut to communicate information to the brain highlights the ability of the gut to influence brain functions and behaviour. The article Mind-altering Microorganisms states, “Studies in germ-free animals and in animals exposed to pathogenic bacterial infections, probiotic bacteria or antibiotic drugs suggest a role for the gut microbiota in the regulation of anxiety, mood, cognition and pain.”
Collectively, the research demonstrates that our digestive track has the power to prevent or cause chronic disease and disorders; as well as affect our mood and behavior. To say that keeping our gut healthy is important would a huge understatement. It is essential to health.
Healing the Gut
Knowing that the two brains are having a conversation and influencing each other helps explain why antidepressant and cognitive behavior therapy help alleviate IBS symptoms. It is possible that when research is more definitive, instead of antidepressants to cure depression or anxiety, doctors will prescribe a probiotic. Or, instead of pain relievers, IBS patients will be received cognitive behavior therapy to heal their gut and anxiety.
At the present moment, we know that regular consumption of natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidative substances significantly improved patients symptoms of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in a clinical setting. We also now that a diets high in fat and cholesterol change gut microbe communities, as does antibiotics; suggesting that both have an effect on the development of disorders, diseases, and emotions. We know that gut flora changes and can certain actions can re-establish healthy amounts. Probiotics help restore a healthy gut, as can a healthy diet.
There is much still to be learned in how the gut and its’ hormones, neurons and the microbiome affect the body and mind. It is excited to see how forthcoming research will allow us to overcome numerous disorders and diseases. Allergies and autoimmune diseases are increasing at unprecedented rates; we hope that understanding how changes in our diet, lifestyle, and gut, can help cure and prevent them.
At Kay’s Naturals, we believe that a healthy life starts with healthy eating. We have created an entire line of snacks and cereals to make eating well easier.