The World Inside
Rita Lim-Wilby Ph.D.
Dark and mysterious, unpredictable and scary, unknown creatures within, possibly dangerous to enter. Sounds like the oceans, right? It’s also our digestive system. Our gut.
Now science is beginning to unpack the wonders and workings of our innards. Not only is our gut necessary for the enjoyment of food and nutrition, the three trillion bacteria cells within keep us free from harmful infections, supplement the nutrients we don’t put on our plates, and sometimes react in unexpected ways. From lip to rectum, the acid/alkaline balance and proportions of water change through the day, each segment having its normal ranges and specific functions. We can think of ourselves as mini ecosystems, hosting a multitude of environments with every turn and pulse of the involuntary muscles that keep things going, as it were.
Beyond food, there is another way to think of the insides of our torso. There are more nerve cells monitoring and informing the human digestive system than there are in our brain. This network of cells is also communicating with the three trillion cells. Some call it our second brain. From the holistic medicine perspective, I would say that this is our First Brain, as it is our first line of defense against infection and comprises the center of our core. In traumatic events or certain situations, your gut feeling, or intuition, is most often the first interpreter of millions of sensory inputs coming at us each second, only a fraction of which are we aware. The more we listen to this First Brain, the more we are in touch with our environment, inside and outside, and the more we know ourselves, as we really are.
It’s unfortunate that so much inside the digestive system is considered taboo or disgusting. If a baby burps his meal up, it’s cute. An adult? Not so much. Perhaps we can separate or discard moral judgments from bodily functions and accept that bowel movements are totally natural, essential, and can be great diagnostic tools to our conditions of health or illness.