The Gut & Mental Health : Is the gut a second brain?

Did you know that some researchers consider the gut to be our second brain?

While it can’t help you compose a Grammy award winning song, or do your tax return, our gut has a large role in nearly every aspect of our health – from physical health to mental health!

Maybe you’ve felt “butterflies” in your stomach, or felt your mouth water before a tasty meal? That’s the link between your gut and your brain!

The physical health relationship may be the more obvious of the two. Our bodies require a wide variety of nutrients and energy to function healthily, and they’re supplied by the foods we eat each day, which are broken down and absorbed by the gut before entering the bloodstream and travelling to the rest of our body.

The connection between the brain and the gut is known as the Brain-Gut Axis, or the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). The ENS consists of two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells which line your gastrointestinal tract from oesophagus to rectum1.

This superhighway of nerve cells allows constant neural, chemical, and hormonal messages to be sent between the gut and the brain providing feedback about hunger and nutrient status, hormone levels, pathogen and disease states and allows control and regulation of vital gastrointestinal functions such as digestion, immunity and inflammation1,2.

The ENS consists of over 500 million neurons. That’s 1/200 of the number of neurons in the brain and five times as many neurons as in the spinal cord1.

Photo by sankalpmaya/iStock / Getty Images

A second relationship also exists between the gut and mental health, one that involves neurotransmitters (NTs) specifically serotonin (our happy chemical), and dopamine (our reward chemical). Unlike conventional thought, recent research has shown that more than 90% of our serotonin, and 50% of our dopamine lie within the gut, and NOT the brain!

This is a huge revelation! If our gut is unhappy (from illness, stress, poor nutrition for example) it enters a state of inflammation, and releases biochemical signals which effectively ‘spread’ inflammatory markers throughout the whole body, including the brain. This creates a state of oxidative stress, and can ultimately lead to mood changes and dysfunction, and physical and mental ill health3.

Ways you can improve your gut health yourself.

  • Chat to the team at Caring Hands Chiropractic about the different types of stress in your life. This could be emotional, physical or chemical, to nutritional or environmental.
  • Have a read of the resources listed at the end of this article.
  • Check in with your mental health regularly. Try daily gratitude activities, create a de-stress routine for after work, rekindle an old hobby or perhaps take time to smell the roses!
  • Check in with your nutrition regularly. Do you eat enough of the right foods each day? Do you have underlying intolerances you didn’t recognise? Is your diet anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory? Do you drink enough water (approx. 1L per 25kg body weight!)


Press HERE to read our Healthy Living Blog post “Prebiotics, Probiotics and Immune Health.” A look into improving your gut microbiome health.

Press HERE to read our Healthy Living Blog post “Allergy or intolerance?” A further look into the role the gut can plan on various aspects on your health.

For a more detailed look at the role gut health, inflammation can play on mental health have a read of “Inflammation, the hidden cause of depression” Press HERE

The spinal research foundation has a 2 part series on the gut-brain axis, which can be found HERE

The Stress Series, part 5: Stress, Chiropractic and the Gut Brain can be found HERE



Feature Image credit: Coolgraphic/Shutterstock