The feel-good factor
The second brain also shares many features with the first. It is made up of various types of neuron, with glial support cells. It has its own version of a blood-brain barrier to keep its physiological environment stable.
And it produces a wide range of hormones and around 40 neurotransmitters of the same classes as those found in the brain. In fact, neurons in the gut are thought to generate as much dopamine as those in the head. Intriguingly, about 95 per cent of the serotonin present in the body at any time is in the ENS.
There is further evidence of links between the two brains in our response to stress. The feeling of “butterflies” in your stomach is the result of blood being diverted away from it to your muscles as part of the fight or flight response instigated by the brain.
However, stress also leads the gut to increase its production of ghrelin, a hormone that, as well as making you feel more hungry, reduces anxiety and depression. Ghrelin stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain both directly, by triggering neurons involved in pleasure and reward pathways, and indirectly by signals transmitted via the vagus nerve.
Then there’s decision-making. The concept of a “gut instinct” or “gut reaction” is well established, but in fact those fluttery sensations start with signals coming from the brain – the fight or flight response again. The resulting feeling of anxiety or excitement may affect your decision about whether to do that bungee jump or arrange a second date, but the idea that your second brain has directed the choice is not warranted. The subconscious “gut instinct” does involve the ENS but it is the brain in your head that actually perceives the threat. And as for conscious, logical reasoning, even Gershon accepts that the second brain doesn’t do that. “Religion, poetry, philosophy, politics – that’s all the business of the brain in the head,” he says.
Source: Neuroscience Stuff, Tumblr