How the enteric nervous system role in our belly goes far beyond just processing the food we eat*.
It doesn't matter how experienced athlete you are, I am pretty sure you already experienced that familiar feeling of "butterflies" in the stomach before an important race or competition.
This sensation comes from an often-overlooked network of neurons lining your gut that is so extensive some scientists have nicknamed it our "second brain".
A more detailed understanding of this mass of neural tissue, filled with important neurotransmitters, reveals that it does much more than merely process digestion.
In fact, your gut is in direct connection with your brain and partly determines our mental state and plays important roles in certain diseases throughout the body.
This whole system contains over 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. This enornous amount of neurons in the enteric nervous system enables us to "feel" the inner world of our gut and its contents.
Much of this "intelligence" is used for complex daily tasks as breaking down food, absorbing nutrients and expelling of waste moving everything on down the line in a synchronized chemical process and rhytimic muscle contractions. This is a very complicated process and scientists found out that about 90 percent of the fibers in the primary visceral nerve, carry information from the gut to the brain and not the other way around (!!)
Besides that the "second brain" also informs our state of mind in many situations and a big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut. Butterflies in the stomach, signaling in the gut as part of our physiological stress response, is just one example.
In fact 95% of the body's serotonin is found in the bowels. Antidepressant medications that increase serotonin levels, also provoke gut issues as a side effect. Irritable bowel syndrome—which afflicts millions of people —also arises in part from too much serotonin in our entrails, and could perhaps be regarded as a "mental illness" of the second brain.
Researches are currently investigating how the "second brain" mediates the body's immune response. We know that at least 70% percent of our immune system is aimed at the gut to expel and kill foreign invaders.
One way to help your gut to balance the system is providing more "good bacterias" to balance the loss caused by stress, fatigue, bad eating habits. A powerful probiotics complex with the right bacteria strains can be key to your health and wellness.
So after all, whether you are a professional athlete or just an sports enthusiast, it is time to pay more attention to that so-called "gut feelings".
* credits to Scientific American Magazine https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/