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Your Backup Brain

The article, “Your Backup Brain” seeks to highlight the significance of the neural network in the stomach, which is said to play a role in influencing mood, diseases and decision-making processes in the body (Hurley 1-4). The author reviews various studies on the importance of the “gut brain” (the enteric nervous system, ENS), which is capable of working as an independent entity, similar to the brain in the head. Here, studies document that the ENS consists of millions of neurons interconnected over a large folded surface area (intestines) enabling the gut to control the entry and processing of food substances. Moreover, the ENS has been shown to take part in nervous responses affecting feelings (sadness or stress), decision-making, memory and learning. Accordingly, the ENS produces approximately 30 neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and other neurotransmitters commonly found in the brain (Hurley 1).

As a result, the existence of similar components in the ENS and the brain has led scientists to suggest that the nervous system began in the gut. In fact, studies document that in higher mammals, just like in lower forms of life, the ganglia originates from primitive nervous circuits in the gut. Therefore, the gut by its own possesses sensors, which gather information presented to its environment through the external matter (Hurley 1). However, the information gathered is not utilized in the gut, but it is channeled to the brain for processing. Consequently, studies indicate that food substances influence mood and emotions. According to various Belgian researchers, specific food components can stimulate the secretion of neurohormones in the stomach, which then signal the brain to respond accordingly (Hurley 2). Furthermore, other scientists have shown the effect of food on mood and behavior through different animal experiments.

On the other hand, available evidence suggests that besides the neurohormones, the gut biome (Probiotics) also plays a role in enhancing communication between the gut and the brain (Hurley 3). Here, researchers claim that from infancy, there is a two-way communication channel between the gut and the brain, which shapes the development of memory and learning abilities in addition to affecting feelings and emotions. Further, other scientists have undertaken studies investigating the specific gut flora implicated in the gut-brain communication axis, in order to develop medications for mental disorders. In fact, Lactobacillus has been shown to reduce anxiety in mice. However, the Probiotic products already in the market have not been shown to affect the mental health in any specific manner (Hurley 3).

Moreover, autism, which is supposed to be a genetic disease, has been linked to various gut disorders. Here, researchers are convinced that some synapses affecting both the enteric and central nervous systems may trigger or worsen the symptoms of autism. On the other hand, some food components in the gut have also been shown to improve or worsen the symptoms as well. Finally, scientists are more than sure that the process of decision-making is based on the communication channel between the enteric and central nervous systems in that when one makes a wrong decision based on guesswork, there is an autonomic response arising from the gut to the brain signaling that the decision is not logical (Hurley 4).

From the foregoing discussions, it is apparent that Hurley has managed to effectively address the significance of the enteric nervous system (ENS) in influencing moods, controlling appetite, controlling the occurrence of diseases, and decision-making. As a result, I believe that this article targets various members of the scientific community including students interested in the field of neurogastroenterology in that it seeks to highlight areas of the field, which have been adequately covered, and those that are yet to be covered accordingly. From the studies reviewed in the article, it is obvious that the author has a keen interest and a clear understanding of the topic. For example, Hurley (1) notes that the gut consists of a network of neurons, which are folded over a wide surface area, and as a result, controlling the entry and processing of food substances. Additionally, these neurons take part in nervous processes that control feelings, decision-making, and memory. This is in fact true considering that over the years; studies have investigated the link between the ENS and the CNS, and as a result, indicated that the two major nervous systems are in constant communication. Therefore, it is no doubt that one system can affect the functions of the other. Furthermore, I think that Hurley’s article has provided reasonable evidence to demonstrate the relationship between the gut and the brain. Here, Hurley (2) notes that since the stomach produces similar nervous components (neurotransmitters) as the brain, there is evidence to suggest that the two originated from the same body systems or one of the two originates from the other. As a result, the studies reviewed in this article suggest that the brain originates from the gut during the initial stages of development.

Moreover, Hurley (2) posits that the gut gathers information related to the external matter that enters its environment, and sends it to the brain for processing. This can include signals related to the presence of food in the gut, which must be sent to the brain to process information that is channeled to various target centers so that they can stop producing hormones that stimulate hunger. Therefore, I think that this is the same way that the gut affects the functions of the brain. Additionally, Hurley (4) indicates that when a person makes a wrong decision based on guesswork, there is an automatic response that is sent to the brain from the gut, which signals that the decision made is illogical. In fact, many people would agree with this proposition on the basis that they encounter similar decisions and feelings in real life situations. As a result, I believe that the gut affects the brain’s ability and functions in decision-making and memory storage. Most importantly, the article identifies the gut biome as being at the center of the communication axis between the gut and the brain. Accordingly, the gut biome has been linked to various mental processes that affect learning abilities, memory, feelings, and emotions. However, there are few studies supporting this proposition, and therefore, it requires further investigations. Consequently, I believe that the gut biome plays an important role in influencing various mental processes, but more studies should be initiated in order to ascertain the significance of Probiotics in the gut-brain communication axis. These studies can also go a long way in terms of guiding the development of new medications to manage various mental disorders. Overall, this article is recommended as a starting point for those researchers and students interested in pursuing the project on the importance of the gut as the second “brain”.

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