Our Gut and Brain – Intertwined by a Circuit of Neurons

A recent study has proven that the human gut and brain are a lot more similar than we once thought.

Aligned with millions of nerve cells, the human gut shares similar sensory properties like its counterpart, the brain. In fact, the gut continuously communicates with the brain to send signals like when one is hungry or when one is full. These signals are traced as they travel in the bloodstream from the intestines to the brain in a matter of milliseconds.

Scientists who conducted this study have coined the gut as a ‘second brain’ with the name enteric nervous system (ENS). The main role of such a system will be to control digestion of food and the releasing of enzymes to help break food accordingly. Its purpose is not to be capable of thought or to communicate them to and from the brain.

What the research confirmed is that this neural connection could be the reason behind certain disorders and conditions like obesity, depression or arthritis. For some researchers, this discovery could explain why a high number of people suffering from irritable bowel dysfunction or functional bowel problems also develop episodes of depression and anxiety. Interestingly, up to 30% to 40% of the global population face some form of bowel disorder.

Furthermore, an additional study in 2019 by RMIT University confirmed that the gut-brain connection is linked with ailments like autism. This new discovery has opened a new direction for potential treatments for issues related to autism by henceforth addressing the main source, which is the gut. Explaining this neural connection, Associate Professor of RMIT University, Elisa Hill-Yardin, commented:

We know the brain and gut share many of the same neurons and now for the first time we’ve confirmed that they also share autism-related gene mutations.”

Approximately 90% of people who suffered from autism also suffer corresponding gastrointestinal problems as well. Professor Yardin added:

“Our findings suggest these gastrointestinal problems may stem from the same mutations in genes that are responsible for brain and behavioural issues in autism.”

With the gut-brain connection medical analysis still current, more research will have to be further investigated. For example, a new study on how the gut can affect other brain functions like memory and thinking skills is very much plausible. Finally, it is highly likely for there to be additional tests on determining how the signals in the digestive system can affect other health conditions like Type 2 Diabetes.

References:

  1. Your gut is directly connected to your brain, by a newly discovered neuron circuit, Sept 2018, ScienceMag
  2. Research confirms gut-brain connection in autism, May 2019, ScienceDaily
  3. The Brain-Guy Connection, Hopskins Medicine