A new study has revealed that our brains communicate with our stomachs much differently than previously thought. We already know that the gut can speak with the brain by using hormones sent through the bloodstream. These hormones inform our conscious mind whether or not we’re hungry. They can also tell us if we overdid it at the buffet. But scientists are learning that communication between our stomach and mind is faster and more intricate than we imagined, reports Science Magazine.
We’ve all heard that we should wait 10 minutes after eating so that our bodies have time to realize that we’re full. That’s because of the time it takes hormones to inform us that we’re done with dinner.
But scientists found that a neural circuit exists that sends information in mere seconds.
The implications for this finding are huge. In the future, this neural circuit could potentially help us learn how to better treat or identify eating disorders, like bulimia and anorexia, as well as food addiction, depression, and other mental disorders. All of these conditions have already been linked to what’s going on in our stomachs. In other words, we now have a new pathway of communication to examine, and, perhaps, to manipulate, in order to ease the symptoms of those suffering.
Eight years ago, an important discovery made by neuroscientist Diego Bohórquez paved the way for new studies in the realm of gut communication. Bohórquez, who works out of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, realized that the cells in the stomach’s lining, the ones that create hormones that aid in digestion, had strange masses sticking out of them. The masses reminded him of synapses and caused him to wonder whether these cells could also send messages to the brain. He studied this further, wondering if the gut could also communicate with the brain about food’s nutritional content.
Bohórquez and his team infected mice with a fluorescent rabies virus, which is sent through these same neuron synapse system. The virus was placed in their colons, which caused the cells in their guts to illuminate. The signal sent by these stomach cells went directly to the vagus nerve in the brain.
The vagus nerve, also known as the pneumogastric nerve, communicates with the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates your heartbeat, breathing, and digestion. There are actually two vagus nerves, but they’re often referred to as a singular entity.