The Big Brain and the Little Brain

Updated: Aug 17

The gut, more specifically the digestive system has been studied as the body’s second brain. Digestion, mood, health and the way you think are all affected by gut health.


What is the Enteric Nervous System?

Here are the major functions of the Enteric Nervous System--

  • Digestion

  • Swallowing

  • Production of the enzymes that break down food

  • Nutrient absorption

  • Elimination

For many years it was thought that anxiety and depression contributed to gastrointestinal issues, but new research is starting to turn this idea on its head, the opposite may in fact be true. Gastrointestinal issues send signals to the central nervous system triggering mood changes.


The studied connections between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system are changing the approach to treating and caring for both. Therapies that help one may help the other.


“Scientists call this little brain the enteric nervous system (ENS). And it’s not so little. The ENS is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum.”


Gut Healing and Mindfulness


Gut healing and mindfulness go hand in hand. Nutrition is of course a major contributor to vitality, immunity, and brain and gut health. It is also important and valuable to remember the importance of mindfulness practices and how they also contribute to brain and gut health. Think “soul meets science.” Distress takes a toll on the nervous system and stress stimulates the fight or flight response, leading to more damage and compromised immunity.

It is easy to focus on one topic and gain lots of understanding of one contributor while missing or disregarding other important factors.The brain affects the gut just as much as the gut affects the brain.


When working to treat and manage stress, depression and anxiety, it is important to treat the digestive system with special care. While probiotics, fermented foods and beverages, and many other foods support gut health; mindful practices should be considered when treating digestive issues.


Incorporating mindful breath, movement or reflection practices may offer an unsuspected solution to gut struggles.


Here are some mindful practices worth a try:


Changing the Way You Feel


Cut Down Inflammation Corn, soy ,dairy, gluten and sugar can cause inflammation and as a first step, it can be beneficial to eliminate these culprits.


Mantra and Mindstate are powerful and healing. Be present. Take a few moments, feel your hips in a seat, or your feet on the floor. Breath in “I am,” Exhale, “here.” The mind is powerful and can get carried away with stories of what is not, what should be or what might be. Reconnection to the present moment can help to alleviate the tension of made up stories. Meditation supports feelings of groundedness; alertness and awareness to the present moment; and a lightness of being. Yoga helps stagnant or heavy energy to move, and also helps to strengthen your physical structure, and can help you feel more secure.


Don’t Over Commit If you are over committed, relinquish yourself (and your gut) of stress by practicing saying no, cutting down commitments or delegating tasks. Remember “no is a complete sentence.”


Manage Chronic Stress Chronic stress is oftentimes a culprit interfering with gut health, the microbiome and the mood. Put simply, exercise regularly, meditate daily, cut down caffeine and sugar, and eat well.


When working on achieving optimal health it is obviously important to take a well-rounded approach. Work on changing this vicious cycle and watch your life change.

© 2020 by Markesha Miller, Ph.D.