The 5 Most Surprising Things I Have Learned About the Gut (so far)
5. Your gut really is a “second brain”.
Special nerve-type cells in your gut – called neuroendocrine cells – communicate directly with your brain. These are in addition to cells doing the nutrient-processing work (the ones lining the gut). These cells have chemical sensors – such as for fat and sugar, and mechanical receptors – that perceive the physical presence of food. This sets up a two-way communication directly between your brain and your gut.
4. Your gut is bigger than you.
At least it is taller – if you stretched it out and stood it on its end, that is. The average human small intestine is around 22 feet long, with the large intestine adding on another 5 feet. The folds, twists and turns of the gut make the inside surface area add up to about the size of a tennis court! This huge surface area is where the nutrient-processing work of the gut happens.
3. You have more cells in your gut than in the entire rest of your body.
The cells in your gut outnumber the rest of your body cells by 9 to 1. Of the 40 trillion (that’s 40,000,000,000,000) cells in your body, 90% are the bacteria in your gut. The “good” bacteria help you break down food into the nutrients we need, and counteract the effects of the “bad” bacteria, which increase inflammation and the risk of disease.
2. The nutrients you eat only feed 10% of your cells; fiber feeds the other 90%.
Remember how 90% of the cells in your body are actually the bacteria in your gut (the microbiome)? They don’t rely on the proteins, carbs and fats that the rest of our cells need. They mainly live on the fiber content of what we eat. Fiber is harder for our human gut lining cells to digest, so the bacteria help us out. This is a win-win; foods with more fiber – like fruits and vegetables – promote more of the beneficial kinds of bacteria, which keep us in better health.
1. You really can “trust your gut”.
Feelings in your gut, such as “butterflies” or tightening, in response to your thoughts are not your imagination. As we’ve just discussed, your gut-brain circuitry is reading your environment as much as your other senses, such as vision, smell and hearing. When faced with an important decision, my favorite way to “listen to my gut” is to imagine making a decision, then noticing how I feel in my body and yes, in my gut. Do I feel disappointment or relief? If I feel disappointment, I know it was the wrong path for me. If I feel relief, then I know I want to go for it!
I don’t know if it’s always true when my patient tells me, “I listened to my body and it wanted chocolate” 🙂 I do know, though, that the gut is central to our health, and yes, you can trust your gut.