Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Dr Suzanne Hen­wood

The gut brain is part of the im­mune function, men­tal health & well­be­ing

If the ‘gut­brain‘ does not write poetry ‘ what does it do?

The en­teric nervous sys­tem that reg­u­lates our gut is of­ten called the body’s ‘sec­ond brain’. Al­though it can’t com­pose poetry or solve equations, this ex­ten­sive net­work uses the same chem­i­cals and cells as the brain to help us digest and to alert the brain when some­thing is amiss.” I would be sur­prised if you have not heard the phrase “gut brain”. The Har­vard Med­i­cal School quote above demon­strates that it is well ac­cepted now that we have com­plex, adaptive, neu­ral net­works (en­teric brain) in our gut and heart.


The gut (or en­teric) brain con­sists of ap­prox­i­mately 500 mil­lion neu­rons. In ad­di­tion, there is a whole colony of mi­crobes, that also im­pacts on our mood and be­hav­iour. The gut brain is in­te­gral to im­mune function in the body and can af­fect men­tal health and well­be­ing, as well as a range of other med­i­cal con­di­tions. Look­ing af­ter gut health then, is es­sen­tial as part of your over­all well­be­ing. But I am not a nutri­tion­ist, what I want to cover in this ar­ti­cle is com­mu­ni­cat­ing with your gut and learn­ing to re­ceive mes­sages from it. mBrain­ing is the new field of ap­plied neu­ro­science which teaches about the head, heart and gut brains and how they com­mu­ni­cate. mBrain­ing seeks to align and raise to high­est ex­pres­sion, the three brains to en­able your own inner wis­dom to emerge. Grant Soos­alu and Marvin Oka, de­scribe the Three Prime Func­tions of the gut as 1. Safety and Se­cu­rity, 2. Mo­bil­i­sa­tion and Tak­ing Ac­tion, and 3. Core Iden­tity. Here is a de­scrip­tion of the three prime func­tions.

1. Safety and Se­cu­rity

Have you ever done any­thing that made you feel scared? I did a bungy jump once and if you are like me, you feel that fear in your gut. We talk of but­ter­flies in the stom­ach – but this was more like a ram­pag­ing rhi­noc­eros. That feel­ing is present to alert you to a safety is­sue. On that oc­ca­sion I chose to over­ride the feel­ings and jump (for fun!). On other oc­ca­sions re­search has shown that peo­ple say they knew some­thing was unsafe, but they ig­nored those gut feel­ings and ended up get­ting into grief. Learn­ing to lis­ten to and learn how to in­ter­pret gut feel­ings, could quite lit­er­ally safe your life. It has also been shown to im­prove work per­for­mance, de­ci­sion mak­ing and a range of other ben­e­fits.

2. Mo­bil­i­sa­tion and Tak­ing Ac­tion

What about the function of mo­bil­i­sa­tion? Have you ever felt stuck? Pro­cras­ti­nated over do­ing some­thing? This is a sign that your gut is not yet willing to take ac­tion.

3. Core Iden­tity

Core iden­tity is that deeper sense of be­ing you, be­ing true to your­self, be­ing au­then­tic. When you sense who you re­ally are at the deep­est level – where do you ex­pe­ri­ence that? Many peo­ple sense that deep in the gut, maybe slightly to the right in the lower quad­rant.


What sort of com­mu­ni­ca­tion ex­ists? The gut com­mu­ni­cates in many dif­fer­ent ways; from chem­i­cal/hor­monal, neu­ro­log­i­cal, en­er­getic, elec­tro­mag­netic to me­chan­i­cal and phys­i­o­log­i­cal. The va­gus nerve is the main nerve route from gut to the head brain and ap­prox­i­mately 80% of the sig­nals in the va­gus are af­fer­ent (i.e. they go from the gut to the head), show­ing the im­por­tance of that gut based data be­ing trans­ferred up­wards. The gut will not com­mu­ni­cate in long aca­demic sen­tences (as lan­guage is a function of the head brain), but it will get its mes­sages across via pic­tures, metaphors, feel­ings and sen­sa­tions. Within sec­onds your head brain may give you a sim­ple sen­tence or word to help you to in­ter­pret the com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Of­ten the words re­main elu­sive, leav­ing you just ‘know­ing’ with­out be­ing able to ex­plain why. While a se­vere fear re­sponse may be dif­fi­cult to ig­nore, other more sub­tle com­mu­ni­ca­tions can be missed if we do not take time to be quiet. De­lib­er­ately shut out ex­ter­nal ‘noise’ and dis­trac­tions and then us­ing mind­ful­ness tech­niques to qui­eten the head, the in­ter­nal chatter be­comes an es­sen­tial part of gut com­mu­ni­ca­tion. So, place the flat of the palm of your hand(s) over your tummy, low down and of­fer re­as­sur­ance that all is well. And simply lis­ten. You may be sur­prised at just how much in­for­ma­tion you re­ceive.

Dr Suzanne Hen­wood is the Di­rec­tor and Lead Coach and Trainer of mBrain­ing4Suc­cess. She is also the CEO of The Healthy Work­place and a Mas­ter Trainer and Mas­ter Coach of mBIT (Mul­ti­ple Brain In­te­gra­tion Tech­niques) and can be con­tacted via her web­site.

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