Hi everyone and welcome back!
This week we’re talking about guts. What is there to say about guts, you might think? Ah, well, never dismiss anything you don’t know much about, I like to always say. Our guts are surrounded by nerves and these nerves make up what is called the enteric nervous system. This is part of the peripheral autonomic nervous system and actually very little is known about it. This, by itself, has always made it really interesting to me.
I remember in my first ever neuroscience class, year one, semester one of my undergraduate degree, I was shown a diagram of the nervous system. “This is the brain – I was told – this is the spinal cord, this is the peripheral nervous system and this is the enteric nervous system. But forget about that for now because we’re not going to cover it in class.”
– No! Why? I want to know more about this!
Well, today I’m guessing I was probably told so because the enteric nervous system is a complex but also mysterious part of our nervous system, and not a whole lot is known about it. What we do know, however, is that the enteric nervous system can communicate with the central nervous system and the two can affect each other. So the idea that you brain is up here in the head and the guts are down there in your belly and the two are strictly separate things is just not true. The enteric nervous system can even “learn” in a way, because it’s plastic and it changes in response to external events and stimuli, which is why some people refer to it as a “second brain”.
If you like the idea of finding out a bit more about the second brain that resides in your stomach, listen on. In this podcast we have Dr. Joanne Pennock and Dr. Mushref Bakri Assas telling us about how the enteric nervous system works, how it communicates with the brain, how it can affect our immune system and what happens when things go wrong – including Crohn’s disease, IBS, and possible links to autism.
I hope you enjoy it!
If you really love this topic, have a read of this really interesting Guardian article by Mo Costandi. He explores the idea that microbes from your guts might be influencing your thoughts. Or read this article on a similar topic published in Scientific American by Adam Hadhazy.