|December 7, 2023

You Have a Second Brain In Your Gut, Scientists Say. Here’s How It Keeps Your Colon Moving

By Julie Hand
Reviewed by Theresa Greenwell for Scientific Accuracy on 08/04/2023

You Have a Second Brain In Your Gut, Scientists Say. Here’s How It Keeps Your Colon Moving

You may be surprised to learn that you have a second brain… in your gut. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is made up of millions of neurons that keep the colon moving. How does it do this? Scientists didn’t know, until now. Researchers in Australia discovered that the neurons in your digestive system fire synchronized electrical charges, which helps to pass waste out of your body.[1]

How does the enteric nervous system (ENS) work?

To fully understand how the ENS works, researchers from Flinders University analyzed the large intestines of euthanized mice, each housing more than 400,000 individual neurons. They used high-resolution neuroimaging technology, as well as electrodes to measure electrical impulses. The researchers found a rhythmic electric pulsing in the rodents’ intestines that caused gut contractions, which then moved waste through the intestines and out of the body.

There’s science behind ‘gut feelings’

“This represents a major pattern of neuronal activity in the mammalian peripheral nervous system that has not previously been identified,” the study authors noted in the journal Neuroscience.

This neuronal activity is linked to a larger system called colonic migrating motor complex (CMMC). More commonly known as that rumbling in your gut that occurs when you’re not eating, CMMCs move indigestible material like fiber through your body. CMMCs also help shuttle bacteria around to different parts of the bowels, allowing the good bacteria to do their housekeeping and the bad bacteria to vacate the premises, so to speak.

Exploring the gut-brain link

What is exciting about these findings on gut motility — the electric movement of your second brain — is that the gut-brain connection is now more concrete. “Now that we know how the ENS is activated under healthy conditions… we can use this as a blueprint to understand how dysfunctional neurogenic motor patterns may arise along the colon,” say the researchers. “Chronic constipation affects a large proportion of the community worldwide, and often arises because of improper colonic transit.”

Since your primary brain’s neurotransmitters or feel-good chemicals like serotonin are synthesized in the gut[2], it’s clearer how backed-up bowels affect your mood. While your two brains are entirely distinct, they are both wired electrically. So constipation — a slowing of the bowel movements — signals dysregulation in your gut, which affects your neurotransmitter levels. So the key to your happiness? It may be in keeping the electrical circuits of both brains moving.

Toning up your digestive system will keep both brains healthy, happy, and in sync. This way, waste will pass out of your body efficiently and your gut will make those chemicals like serotonin that keep you feeling good.

How to improve digestion and keep your two brains happy

Everybody poops, and you’ll know when you’re backed-up. For chronic constipation or if you have a medical condition, first check with your healthcare provider. Otherwise, try one of the following suggestions to combat constipation:

  • Drink plenty of water: Aim for at least half a liter or water each day and double that if you’re on the keto diet.
  • Try upping your salt intake: Consume 1-2 teaspoons of pink Himalayan salt a day.[3]
  • Supplement with magnesium: Start low around 100 mg per day and never go about 350 mg per day of magnesium citrate.[4]
  • Try resistant starch: The least toxic source of resistant starch is from plantains (Barry’s is a recommended brand.) You can work your way up to 4 tablespoons (48 grams) of plantain flour per day, for about 32 grams of resistant starch.
  • Take probiotics: You can find a good multi-strand probiotic in your local health food store.[5]

Read next: This Poop Chart Tells You What’s Happening in Your Gut

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