BioHack Your Gut (Part 1)

I have a question, do you have a cat or a dog? If not, I’m sure you’ve been around them before. Would you say that they are intelligent? Dogs can follow commands, they can sit, play fetch and even sense when you’ve had a rough day and need a little furry cuddle. Cats, well they are intelligent too. They hunt birds and mice and groom themselves regularly - pretty independent little creatures I would say. Would you agree that your canine and feline counterparts are rather intelligent for animals? I think we can all agree with a resounding, “yes!”.

“Wait a second, what’s this have to do with biohacking your gut?”, you may be asking.  The reason is because cats and dogs have about 200 million nerve cells in their brains, just as many that are in your gut!!  That’s right, we have as much intelligence in our little bellies as our domesticated companions. It’s no wonder that we talk about “gut instinct”, having the “guts” to do something when being brave, and having “butterflies” in your stomach when you’re worried or nervous. The stomach is an incredible sensor for our bodies.

Your 30 feet of snake-like intestines is more than just a disgusting tube to breakdown and absorb food, it’s so much more. It hosts it’s own nervous system as intelligent as a cat or dog (we call it the enteric nervous system), our gastrointestinal system can impact our personality, mood, immune system and even some diseases. Before we dive too deep into the rabbit hole of the gut, let’s stick to this game changing idea that our gut has its own nervous system.

“Very similar to why we keep personal computers on our desk,” explains the Leonardo De Vinci of Gut Brain science, Michael Gershon, “our brain peripheralized the physical task of digestion in order to be more efficient and effective. Our brain can outsource the task and free up the brain from requiring more space for 200 million more neurons.”

Arguably, the gut brain may in fact have been the first brain to develop through the evolution of modern humans, not 2nd in command to the brain between our ears which you may be thinking. Primitive multicellular organisms were actually only comprised of a digestive system. Your enteric nervous system, your guts brain essentially, developed in this digestive tube. Consequently, our human brain developed to coincide with the gut brain; eyes, ears and sense of smell and taste were useful in seeking food. Makes sense to me.

Our gut brain should get more street cred for being more intelligent than you think.  The fact is, once our Paleolithic ancestors discovered the use of fire (basically a prehistoric BBQ) about 1.5 million years ago, we were able to push the gas peddle on the evolutionary vehicle of modern humans. “Why?”, you may ask.  Because cooked food provides 16 times more energy than non-cooked food, this allowed us more time and energy to give our focus to other in our cognitive development and exploration. This was a HUGE (dare I say MONOLITHIC) jump in our evolutionary path to our modern form because over about 100,000 after our ancestors started using a prehistoric BBQ our brain size went from 700 cc to 1600 cc and more than doubled! This gave our little, or not so little, noggins the ability to focus on other things other than digestion and acquiring food. Like important discoveries & developments that led to our evolution in technology - as  we progressed directly to to our modern state today.

So next time we are told to trust our gut, I think it would be safe to say it would be a wise choice. Unless you think a dog or cat aren't as smart as I do.

To be continued...In the next part of this 3 part blog post series I’m going to discuss how the gut talks to the brain by using neurotransmitters and how they impact our mood, personality and risks for anxiety, depression and insomnia. Until then, try listening a little more to your gut & hear what it’s saying...

Travis Cox