Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Ever wondered why psychologists or psychiatrists always encourage their patients to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet? It's not just to hit your caloric intake and get a nice physique; the answer is much more complex.
Over the last decade, more and more research has shown that our digestive system like our large and small intestine, organs responsible for the absorption and break down of food nutrients, plays a much bigger role for the body, both physical AND mental. We've all heard the cliché that food works for us the way gas fuels a car, but what if it affected your mood regulation and emotional responses as well?
People have begun nicknaming the gut our 'mini-brain' due to its completely independent nervous system with over 100 million autonomous neurons. This might explain why our anxiety may create a physiological response in our stomachs and tighten up. Or why our mood stability seems to drop if we go without the proper nutrition our body is used to. Not only that, but our gut could very well have been the 'first brain'.
What does 'first brain' mean though? From an evolutionary perspective, there is a theory that cites our GI tract may well have developed and played an enormous role before the chief operator of our bodies: the brain.
Nick Spencer, a professor at Flinders University in Australia, conducted a recent study that shows support to this claim. This would mean the gut works as complexly as our brain does with the gut muscles being signaled to expand, absorb, and break down by its independent nervous system. Spencer's research included the study of organisms that ironically don't have brains; freshwater creatures, comprised mainly of nerves and no traditional, cranial brain.
So the question is how have organisms like Jellyfish or other worm-shaped 'fish' have lived for over a million years? What has aided these creatures in their biological feat? Spencer discovered that their intrinsic nervous system was responsible for the creatures' ability to swim, contract, expand, and most importantly, digest food. These organisms have survived through a complex nervous system that very closely resembles the way our GI tract works, supporting the theory that the gut may very well be the 'first brain' of living organisms.
What does this mean for you and me? It should emphasize the incredible importance nutrition does have on our mental health and that we must take care of our digestive system the same way we care for our brain. Additionally, this should encourage individuals to experiment and try different diets for different health oriented-needs. Certain plant-based or specific diets have been extremely effective in that they're able to counteract and reduce physical ailments and injuries. The research into our GI tract presents us with several opportunities for growth and healthcare. That being said, the next time a doctor suggests a change in diet or a certain food rich in macronutrients, you may want to pay closer attention to why.
To learn more, read the original article here: https://www.inverse.com/mind-body/gut-first-brain
What are your thoughts on the gut and the 'first brain'? Do you have any experience with dieting that drastically improved your lifestyle? Please let us know in the comments!