Your gut does so much more than just digest food. Did you know your gut is the largest sensitive surface in your body to comes in contact with the external environment ? That makes your gut a sensory organ that impacts everything from immune system function to mood, and of course, digesting and taking in nutrients from food.
What you eat and how you take care of your gut has a significant impact on your overall health. There are three ways that your gut processes and reacts to signals from the outside world, neurons, hormones, and immune cells. Let’s take a look at how each of these critical signaling centers operates and what impact they have on your health.
Gut as a Sensory Organ: The Enteric Nervous System
Not too long ago, scientists discovered how important neurons are in gut health and signaling . These biological superhighways are like the instant messaging system of your body . The more formal name for this neural network is the enteric nervous system.
The enteric nervous system regulates the gastrointestinal tract. It relies heavily on neurons to perform its duties. Neurons in the gut trigger a reflex response that begins the process of digestion when there is food or water in the gut.
The neurons sense this by monitoring chemical and physical changes, such as what food you eat and distension of the stomach . These actions trigger our sensory organ.
As explained in an analysis on the enteric nervous system,
“GI peptides in the blood can broadcast a signal to any tissue with a matching receptor, including tissues in GI organs where the peptides help coordinate digestive function. Early during the digestive process, they contribute to slowing gastric emptying and stimulating pancreatic secretion of enzymes and bicarbonate. Later they facilitate secretion of insulin and the postabsorptive assimilation of nutrients.”– Relationships Among the Brain, the Digestive System, and Eating Behavior: Workshop Summary.
When these responses are elicited, it tells the gut to begin the digestion of food. Other times, neurons of the enteric nervous system tell us when we’re full or hungry.
Meanwhile, other neurons report the state of the gut to the central nervous system. These neurons sense when something is wrong. Based on these interactions, neurons can trigger physical discomfort or nausea. For example, these neurons are responsible for pain in stomach when you have an inflamed gut lining .
Gut as a Sensory Organ: Endocrine System
The next way that your gut processes outside signals are through the endocrine system. This network in our body produces hormones that are influenced by your gut biome .
Within your gut, there are hundreds of thousands of endocrine cells. These endocrine cells produce many different hormones that are dispersed throughout your body.
Hormones are released within the gut after you eat or drink. They send a signal to your body to begin breaking down food by releasing digestive enzymes . In addition, hormones can spread a message throughout the circulatory system. Therefore, hormones can act on multiple body parts at once.
While they affect different systems, neurons and hormones do not work separately. In fact, hormones often work to trigger a response from a neuron . When hormones and neurons work together, your gut can digest food seamlessly. As a result, this sensory organ can keep gut-related disorders are kept at bay.
Gut as a Sensory Organ: Immune System
Last but certainly not least is your gut immune system. The gut biome is home to 70-80% of the body’s immune cells . We need a majority of them there to protect our sensory organ from damage perpetrated by our dietary choices.
Our immune system has to continually battle pathogens found in what we eat and drink every day. Some immune cells in the gut help to create antibodies to foreign pathogens that come into the digestive tract. Thanks to the adaptive immune system, our gut biome can better respond to these opportunistic stomach bacteria.
The immune system is responsible for creating inflammation in the gut, which, when necessary, can be crucial in fighting off pathogenic growth . Consequently, this inflammation can have negative consequences when it becomes chronic . Dysfunction in the gut immune system plays a role in diseases from IBS to allergies and even leaky gut.
Why Gut Health Matters for Optimal Wellness
When the gut immune cells, endocrine system, and gut neurons all work together, your gut can accomplish more. This sensory organ can digest your food as well as protect you from pathogens. When this intricate signaling system falls out of balance, it can lead to all sorts of diseases.
It’s essential to make sure that you are taking the proper steps to maintain optimal gut health. Your gut responds to the food you eat, so it is important to eat unprocessed whole foods as much as possible, Healthy dietary choices trigger the proper signaling responses from your body and decrease unnecessary inflammation .
Additionally, maintaining a healthy microbiome is critical in regulating hormonal signaling and keeping your immune system healthy. On top of eating foods in a healthy gut diet plan, taking probiotic supplements is another way to boost your gut health .
Here at Thryve, we offer probiotics based on your unique gut biome and health goals. By personalizing our probiotics, we can help you take care of the most significant sensory organ in your body!
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