Your intestines play a key role in your overall health, and not just the digestive process
The small and large intestines, those coiled-up loops that sit right under the stomach in textbook diagrams of the digestive system, do a lot more for your body than simply process food. In fact, some of their functions are plain awesome. Intestines can think and feel; some scientists call them the second brain!
The organ has almost as many nerves as your spinal column. It communicates with the brain about the digestive system, but can function even when disconnected from the brain. So if something toxic (stale food, the wrong bacteria, even too much food) enters the gut, it's the intestine that will isolate what's wrong and try to fix it. You'll end up ejecting it from your system (by throwing up or a visit to the toilet) primarily because of your intestines.
Intestines also listen to cues from the brain. If you're anxious, the stomach will react as a cramp and tummy contractions will increase when you're making a
decision you're not happy with. Our intestine also knows what's going on in the world outside your body - a world it has never seen. A lot of people who work in high risk areas - fire fighters, soldiers and policemen - learn to read how their stomach feels before their mind or eyes understand a situation.
A big part of emotions could be linked to what's happening in the gut. Longer-term hunger turns people aggressive, angry and hostile. Quick eaters report feeling satiated faster. And a much-loved dish can easily trigger a feeling of bliss once it reached the stomach.
Belly of the beast
Most people know that it's the billions of intestinal bacteria that process our food and send signals out to the brain. What few know is that the bacteria in our guts is 10 times more than the cells in our body. The kind of food we eat influences these bacteria. A lot of diseases begin from the intestine, which explains why ancient medicine gave so much importance to the region.
So the next time you're faced with a plate of unhealthy food, think of the many, many, many little workers in your stomach and how your choice will affect them (and ultimately, you). You might just be better prepared to fight common food temptations.
From HT Brunch, April 13
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