When I heard that Anwar Mal was to give a lecture on, “The Gut – its Contents and Malcontents,” I knew I was in for a treat!
Whist the gut is primarily known for its role in digesting our food, I have some knowledge about recent research demonstrating the multiple function of the organs stretching from the mouth, to the oesophagus, including the stomach, the small intestine, the large intestine and the rectum. I know the gut had been called The Second Brain, and that most of the neurotransmitter called serotonin is manufactured in the gut. So, here is my opportunity to extend my knowledge of the gut-brain connection..
Professor Mall has been involved in researching the functionality of mucous at the University of Cape Town and elsewhere. He has developed the understanding of how mucus was the ability to protect the internal tracts of the gut from the potent hydrochloric acid which breaks down our food in the stomach.
Today I learned it may well be the organ which best encompasses the unifying relationship between both mind and body. When I was at school some 70 years ago, the gut was solely an organ to be associated with food. However research which has been undertaken during the past few decades makes us believe parts of the gut have an important role to play in our emotional and mental health.
The Language of the Gut
People have always spoken about having gut feeling. Now we are starting to understand how the contents of your gut, which contains quantities of microbes and bacteria has a direct impact on our emotional wellbeing. It is now said that to understand the workings of your gut is as important as your knowledge of what food to ingest.
Gut – Brain Link
Soon I discovered there was an entire branch of medical research investigating the links between the gut and the brain. It is a rapidly growing field of study. It has been said that research on the gut may ultimately be more promising than work on stem-cell research.
The gut accounts for two thirds of our immune system, extracts energy from our food and produces more than twenty unique hormones.
Research of Guilea Enders
One young woman who has made a contribution to the new understanding of the role of this medley of organs, is Guilea Enders who has written a brilliant book, simply called The Gut
At the age of 17 she developed a mysterious skin condition which created sores all over her body. Treatment recommended by her doctors was ineffective so she decided to do her own experiments. She knew that her delivery by Caesarean Section meant that her mother’s probiotic bacteria did not transfer optimally into her gut as a new born. So, at the age of 17 Guilea was motivated to read up on the current gastroenterological research. This led her to explore whether extra probiotics and mineral supplements to support her digestion may influence her skin condition. Her self experiments were successful and she has now made it her life’s work to share her knowledge with the medical world.
To follow up on the concept of a mother transferring natural immunity to her new born child by exchange of body fluids as it exits the birth canal, I learned from Professor Mal of another exchange of fluids that can boost our immunity – none other than the intimate act of the kiss!
Role of Probiotics
I have been hearing for some time the danger of being prescribed antibiotics too frequently. I also knew that it was advisable to take a probiotic at the same time as the antibiotic to overcome the unwanted side effects. However the reason for these measures has now become clear to me.
Unfortunately antibiotics do not discriminate between the healthy bacteria in your gut and the unhealthy bacteria, resulting in healthy bacteria being depleted when one takes a course of antibiotics. This problem can be rectified by ingesting the probiotics to regain the optimal levels. Ultimately it is a delicate balance of healthy and unhealthy bacteria which determines one’s state of health.
Gershon and The Second Brain
Michael Gershon is a neurobiologist, so one would imagine that he studies the brain. However he has discovered the enteric nervous system which is present in the gut leading to him writing a book called The Second Brain. Neurogastroenterology has become a highly specialised field which enhances the ongoing understanding of the mind and the body’s interactions.
It is now known that the ugly gut is more intellectual than the heart. In fact it could be said to have the capacity for feeling. What is more it has the capacity to mediate reflexes in the complete absence of input from the brain or the spinal cord. Would you believe that there are more than a hundred million nerve cells in the human small intestine? This number is almost equal to the quantity of nerve cells in the spinal cord.
Saliva and David Wong
David Wong of UCCLA has been working on the role of saliva as a diagnostic tool for the early detection of cancer. “We were able to show that salivary diagnostics is just as reliable in lung cancer detection as traditional methods are,” said Dr. Wong. “However, our method is non-invasive, nets quicker results (minutes versus days).” Dr. Wong never thought he’d be analysing spit when he pursued a dental degree, but now he can’t picture doing anything else.
What the Gut may tell us about Consciousness
As a layman it requires a certain amount of imagination to believe in the multiple role of the gut. It is an organ which acts as a digester of food, a second brain, a potential for rich non-invasive research, as well as a vital source of knowledge of the interaction of the mind and the brain. Because of these varied capacities it is hypothesised that this knowledge may give us some insight into the ultimate meaning of consciousness!