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Butterfly Feelings, Gut Instincts and the Second Brain




Those butterfly feelings and gut instincts we often feel are sensations stemming from an extensive and independent network of neurons that line the gut, nicknamed the “second brain” by Michael Gershon, M.D., author of the book, The Second Brain.

This network of neurons (also known as the enteric nervous system) contains 100 million important neurotransmitters, with most of its responsibility delegated to the process of digestion and expelling wastes. Gershon states that the “second brain” is equipped with its own reflexes and senses that allow it to work independently from the brain. "The brain in the head doesn't need to get its hands dirty with the messy business of digestion, which is delegated to the brain in the gut," Gershon says. Although the gut and the brain are able to work independently, they are both regulated by the control center— the hypothalamus.

Researchers think that our emotions may have a connection with the nerves in our gut. One example being the butterfly sensations we often feel when we are anxious; those sensations are messages being passed back and forth from the gut to the brain, signaling stress, Gershon explains. The enteric nervous system uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, including serotonin, that are also used by the brain. Studies show that approximately 90% of the body’s serotonin is located in the gut. Gershon states that because of these two commonalities between the gut and the brain, many depression treatments that target serotonin in the brain may also negatively affect the serotonin in the gut. The enteric nervous system sends many more messages to the central nervous system than it receives. Even though it is not the center of conscious thought, it may have a widespread influence on the body’s physical and emotional well-being.