We get asked all the time by our patients, what is this thing called the brain gut connection? We get asked that all the time because we focus on the nervous system, or the “brain” part of the connection.
See, the nervous system is composed of all kinds of things, your brain, brain stem, spinal cord, and then all the nerves that come out of your spinal cord and go into your body. Fun fact, there are roughly 37 MILES of nerves throughout your body. Anyway, the reason we want to focus on the nervous system through the chiropractic adjustment is because we find that a lot of people, due to stresses and traumas, have their nervous systems pushed Into a what’s called a “fight or flight” state, or sympathetic state. When this “fight/flight” state becomes mostly permanent, it’s called sympathetic dysafferentation.
This is more of an emergency or threat state. Your brain is sensing danger and your brain will being to force the body to operate as if it’s in a true state of physical danger. Over enough time, the brain will actually begin to start to perceive everything through a “stress window” where the fight or flight part of our brainstem and nervous system begins to override everything. Living in stress mode becomes the default.
The thing is, that part of our brain, the brain stem, it’s not conscious. It’s what they call autonomic, meaning it controls the stuff inside of our body that happens without us thinking about it. Some of the newer science that’s out there now is estimating that the brain stem itself has over 4 TRILLION nerve fibers inside of it. They’re also estimating that we send and receive anywhere from 10 to 11 trillion bits of information per second. That’s like having 11 terabytes of internet speed!
Fortunately we don’t even know all this stuff is happening, right? Like we’re focused on getting to work on time and we’re focused on what’s for lunch. We’re focused on putting the kids to bed, right? We are busy, but we’re not 11 trillion things per second busy.
So that system, part of the brain gut axis, keeps all of our parts and pieces moving. It keeps all of our cells talking to one another. It makes your pancreas make insulin. It makes you breathe when you’re not thinking about it, it controls your muscle tone, your balance etc.
Now, how does this pertain to the gut you ask? Well, scientists now are estimating that 90% of all the information that’s traveling up and down the spinal cord afferent. That means it’s INPUT or, information coming from outside the brain and body going into the brain. The other 10% of the data that’s traveling is outbound messaging where the brain says “Okay, we’ve made a decision, pancreas I want you to do this, liver I need you to do that, colon I need you to do this” and so on.
What makes the gut so special is the sheer density of neurological tissue that’s involved. Sometimes people will call it the “enteric nervous system” or ENS and there are hundreds of millions of nerve endings in the gut. Real quick, the “gut” is referring to the giant tube from the mouth down to the esophagus, stomach, intestine, colon, and then out the other end. It’s all lined with very sensitive nerve endings that have to give the brain instant information on what’s going on inside of it.
Here’s the crazy part; if you think about it, the gut is still outside. It’s a tube about 20 to 25 feet long and when you’re eating a piece of food it’s now inside the tube but still outside the body. This is the reason your gut has so many nerves, whatever goes down your mouth and into your intestine can directly leach through the intestinal wall right into your bloodstream. It’s really important to keep that area safe and clean. You can imagine if you ate something that you weren’t supposed to, it could make you very sick or even kill you. So that part of your nervous system, the ENS is very particular and it’s very dense and it must be so that it can let the brain know something’s coming through and the brain can decide if it should or should not be there.
It’s really powerful. It’s a tremendous amount of information that your gut has to give your brain so that the brain can act accordingly. That’s why this brain gut connection is so intimate, it’s so important and one can affect the other. So let’s walk through that real quick in your gut.
Let’s break down the “gut” portion of the brain gut axis. So when I say gut, I’m talking about the entire tube. We’ve got esophagus, the stomach is like a little bag, then the intestine is another part of the tube, and then the colon is yet another part, but it’s all connected. It’s one giant piece with a few different chambers inside of it.
So as we eat, our food comes down the esophagus, the stomach preps and breaks down your food. Let’s say you had a Fuji apple salad or something, all that lettuce and a little bit of blue cheese and some steak or whatever. You chew it up, your saliva and the enzymes in your mouth start breaking it down and It turns kind of mushy. You swallow it down the esophagus and into the stomach.
The stomach chemically breaks down the food even more with hydrochloric acid and enzymes that liquefies the food, like a smoothie. From there It drops out the bottom of the stomach through a special little valve that pours into the intestine. Your pancreas squirts in more enzymes to balance it out (because you don’t want hydrochloric acid going into your intestine) and then the food starts to become absorbed as it travels through the intestine. There’s an average of 15 feet of intestine tubing and as the liquid food is passing through it gets absorbed along the way.
Now is when it gets real. This liquid food starts to go through the intestinal wall and directly to your bloodstream. This is why there are so many nerves here, the brain REALLY needs to know what’s going into the bloodstream. So my liquid food docks onto the cells of the intestine, gets absorbed like water into a sponge, little carrier cells in your bloodstream pick up those liquid nutrients and whisk ’em away to wherever they need to go.
So, the brain gut axis is a really critical thing to get dialed in. It’s not just a round and round argument about which one is more important, they need to work together. I’m a huge proponent of tackling both at the same time because you’ve got to pay attention to both of them. And so that’s why with our care plans, we really focus on the nervous system. That’s the day-to-day visits and checkups through our chiropractic care.
For the gut system we actually have multiple other doctors that we work with, run blood panels, offer nutritional and nutrient support, and offer a full program to make sure that the lining of the intestinal wall is in tip top shape.
If we can do that AND increase the communication between the two systems, and they begin to work together like they’re supposed to, it is astonishing what begins to happen inside the human body. That in a nutshell is what the brain gut axis is. It’s two very important organs and communication systems that keep us alive. They have to communicate efficiently, effectively, accurately and frequently. Once we can get all of those pieces put back together, the human body by default will begin to operate as it was intended. And life gets really good for the folks that we can do all of that with.
So if you’re struggling with any of these things and you want to speak more to us about this, feel free. There’s a button somewhere, just click it and schedule a consultation. We never charge for those, and we’ll see if we can point you in the right direction. We’ll talk soon. Bye-bye.