The “little brain in the intestines”

Since the research team of the American neuroscientist Professor Michael Gershon succeeded in finding striking anatomical and biochemical similarities between the brain and the nerve cells in the stomach, it became clear that the intestine is more than a muscular tube with digestory and excretory reflexes. The new and exciting results of recent neuro-atanomical research prove that the intestine is a "super organ" with numerous connections to the immune system and a "direct line" to the brain.

Around 100 million nerve cells envelop the intestine, more than all of the nerve cells of the spinal cord together, and are in close connection to the brain. 90% of the nerve fibres which connect the stomach and brain run upwards from the stomach to the brain. Signals from the stomach are very important for the body – perhaps we should take the messages from our stomach more seriously? Admittedly, we cannot sense many of these signals, but we can quickly recognise alarm signals such as nausea, stomach-aches and vomiting. Yes, even the feeling of "butterflies in the stomach" which is so often romantically depicted or laughed at, conveys new meaning in the new light of scientific knowledge.

With the collection of around 100 million nerve cells, the stomach contains the second largest accumulation of nerve cells in the human body after the brain. Researchers have found all the typical cell characteristics and biochemical reactions of brain cells in the stomach cells, so that they speak of a "second brain in the stomach".

The transmission of information from one nerve cell to another is carried out by neurotransmitters. These include adrenaline, noradrenaline, dopamine, acetylcholine and serotonin as well as other opiates and endorphins produced by the body. Each of these biochemical substances performs an important control function in the brain and helps regulate the entire nervous system. All of our conscious, voluntary actions, as well as all of our involuntary actions, such as the rate of heart beat, digestion, excretion, urination and even thought, with flashes of inspiration, fantasy, creativity, concentration, all emotions, perception of pain, sleep rhythms, speaking, learning and general and fine motor movement are dependent on the activity of the neurotransmitters in the stomach and brain.

It is not the brain but rather the stomach which synthesises 95% of the total amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin, the neurotransmitter which affects the mood of humans so greatly. Even today, it is still certain that over 40 of the different neurotransmitters are produced in the "stomach's brain". As much as it was previously thought that neurotransmitters were only present or at least found in a high concentration in the brain, it is now certain that they are also present in the stomach. The consequences for diagnoses of and therapies for many illnesses, which were previously thought to be related to the brain or the stomach, are incalculable.

Even at the beginning of the 1970's, researchers carrying out an experiment on flatworms raised the question of whether food consumption alongside the plain food supply was related to the transfer of information. When worms were fed powdered worms of the same species which had previously learnt a specific behaviour, the worms showed the learnt behaviour of their dead counterparts without any specific training. The obvious transfer of information lead the researchers to the nucleic acid in the flatworm memory powder. Does this effectuate the old dream of every student, simply to eat knowledge in order to store it? Do we consume with C.G.F. a piece of the survival knowledge of the ancient algae? The newly discovered relationship between the stomach and brain could, when scientifically researched, answer such seemingly absurd questions and produce further interesting results.

Observations which confirm a link between food intolerance and allergies and psychological disorders, which previously existed only in the realms of fantasy and speculation appear logical upon examination of these new research results on "the small brain in the stomach". Medical research must now redirect itself in order to be able to develop diagnostic and therapeutic strategies from this exciting, direct link between intestine and brain. Many of my patients, who upon my recommendation have regularly taken C.G.F., report of a pleasant feeling in their stomachs, good thoughts, a good mood and increased concentration and creativity. I take these reports very seriously and am curious as to the explanations "neuro-gastrological" science will find for this phenomenon.