The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine by Michael D. Gershon“Persuasive, impassioned... hopeful news [for those] suffering from functional bowel disease.” — New York Times Book Review
Dr. Gershon’s groundbreaking book fills the gap between what you need to know—and what your doctor has time to tell you.
Dr. Michael Gershon has devoted his career to understanding the human bowel (the stomach, esophagus, small intestine, and colon). His thirty years of research have led to an extraordinary rediscovery: nerve cells in the gut that act as a brain. This second brain can control our gut all by itself. Our two brains—the one in our head and the one in our bowel—must cooperate. If they do not, then there is chaos in the gut and misery in the head—everything from butterflies to cramps, from diarrhea to constipation. Dr. Gershons work has led to radical new understandings about a wide range of gastrointestinal problems including gastroenteritis, nervous stomach, and irritable bowel syndrome.
The Second Brain represents a quantum leap in medical knowledge and is already benefiting patients whose symptoms were previously dismissed as neurotic or its all in your head.
Unique neuronal firing patterns in our "second brain" observed for the first time
As Olympians go for the gold in Vancouver, even the steeliest are likely to experience that familiar feeling of "butterflies" in the stomach. Underlying this sensation is an often-overlooked network of neurons lining our guts that is so extensive some scientists have nicknamed it our "second brain". A deeper understanding of this mass of neural tissue, filled with important neurotransmitters, is revealing that it does much more than merely handle digestion or inflict the occasional nervous pang. The little brain in our innards, in connection with the big one in our skulls, partly determines our mental state and plays key roles in certain diseases throughout the body. Although its influence is far-reaching, the second brain is not the seat of any conscious thoughts or decision-making.
Using a newly developed imaging technique, a team of researchers in Australia has directly observed a unique neural motor firing pattern outside of the brain or central nervous system. The pattern of neuronal firing, in the intestine, showed exactly how our enteric nervous system coordinates contractions in our gastrointestinal tract. The enteric nervous system ENS is a massive mesh of neurons located in our gastrointestinal tract. It's the largest collection of neurons found in the body outside of the brain, and because of its ability to operate entirely independently it has often been referred to as our "second brain. It is only recently that science has begun to seriously look at how this so-called second brain actually functions. While we have countless studies correlating neuronal firing in the brain with assorted physical actions, there has been little examination into how neuronal firing in the ENS results in intestinal muscle activity.
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Millions of neurons in the gastrointestinal tract coordinate their activity to generate the muscle contractions that propel waste through the last leg of the digestive system, according to a study of isolated mouse colons published in JNeurosci. The newly identified neuronal firing pattern may represent an early feature preserved through the evolution of nervous systems. The enteric nervous system ENS is known as the "second brain" or the brain in the gut because it can operate independently of the brain and spinal cord, the central nervous system CNS. Despite the known role of the ENS in generating motor activity in the colon, observing ENS neurons in action has been a challenge. Nick Spencer and colleagues combined a new neuronal imaging technique with electrophysiology records of smooth muscle to reveal a pattern of activity that involves many different types of neurons firing simultaneously in repetitive bursts to activate the muscle cells at the same rate. They demonstrate how this rhythmic activity generates so-called colonic migrating motor complexes to transport fecal pellets through the mouse colon.
The ENS is two thin layers of more than million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from esophagus to rectum. Researchers are finding evidence that irritation in the gastrointestinal system may send signals to the central nervous system CNS that trigger mood changes. This new understanding of the ENS-CNS connection helps explain the effectiveness of IBS and bowel-disorder treatments such as antidepressants and mind-body therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy CBT and medical hypnotherapy. By now, we know that a healthy diet is important for physical well-being. Researchers are studying whether probiotics — live bacteria that are safe to eat — can improve gastrointestinal health and your mood. Pasricha says research suggests that digestive-system activity may affect cognition thinking skills and memory , too.