The Brain And Stomach Are Connected In Ways You Never Imagined
Let’s be honest here. We have all found ourselves in a situation like this: We think that we are starving for food, and so we start to crave something fatty. Preferably something along the lines of pizza or cheap take-out. So what do we do? We go to the nearest pizza or Chinese take-out joint and then we order a large pizza or a ton of noodles, and then we go back to our home and binge on as much as food as possible, while we watch our favorite TV show. If you’re anything like me, then, unfortunately, this happens all too often and it almost always ends in a stomach ache and crying in bed.
Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Even though we know that it’s going to cause us pain we do what our stomach craves anyway. Could this be because our body thinks with our stomach instead of our brain?
No, but it does turn out that our stomach is more connected to our brain than we originally thought.
Neuron Circuits Between The Brain And Gut
While studying the properties of the stomach in 2010, Diego Bohórquez, a neuroscientist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, noticed that the enteroendocrine cells that line along the outside of the stomach contained small protrusions that are similar to the synapses that neurons use for communication.
Enteroendocrine cells are typically used by the body to help produce hormones for various reasons such as digestion. So Diego became curious at the discovery and wondered whether or not it would be possible for the cells to also be able to relay messages to the brain in a manner similar to the way neurons communicate. It was possible for the enteroendocrine cells to communicate with the central nervous system via hormones, so it didn’t seem like it would be a far-fetched idea.
To test Diego’s theory, he and his colleagues injected a rabies virus that was fluorescent into the colons of mice. They then observed that the enteroendocrine cells lit up and connected to the Vagus nerve, which connects directly to brain stem! This meant that they had discovered a new neuron circuit that connected the brain to the stomach! What an amazing discovery!
Even though the discovery of this new network of neurons is outstanding, there is still much work that is needed to be done in order for the scientists to fully understand the capabilities. Diego has said, that the next step is to find whether or not the stomach can send information to the brain about the nutritional value of the foods that the body partakes of.
The scientists learned that the body is able to transmit information to the brain at a significantly faster rate through the vagus nerve than it normally does. A possible application for this could be combating depression by increasing the rates that dopamine is released into the body. It’s amazing that such a simple discovery from someone noticing the peculiar shape of cells can lead to such incredible possibilities.
In the end, it turns out that the stomach can’t control our thoughts and make us binge on pizza. But the future does look bright after scientists discovered that the brain and gut are more interconnected than we had ever thought before.