I've been doing a clear out recently, a big clear out. I've been going through my Reflexology paperwork and one of the documents I came across was an article written by Tracey Smith FMAR, from the Association of Reflexologists. It was an article from March 2012 - which I read at the time, but was so interesting that I kept it. In fact it was so interesting that I'd like to share it now.
Tracy quotes research by Michael Gershon of Columbia University and suggests that it has begun a deeper understanding of the role of the 100 million neurones in the wall of the bowel. There are so many neurons in the gut - roughly the same size as a cat brain when put together - that it has become known as the 'second brain'.
We've probably all experienced that "butterflies in the stomach" feeling: the uncomfortable, twitchy, nervous feeling we get when we're excited or scared. Well, that feeling is produced by those 100 million neurons in the gut, the second brain, sending out a surge of stress hormones that affect not only the stomach, but other organs of the body too.
The 'gut brain' communicates with the brain in a two-way process - receiving information from the brain and sending information to the brain. Tracy says "The brain's job description is that it controls behaviour, takes input and generates responses. The enteric [gut] brain primarily deals with digestion so that it is 'on site' rather than having to pass through the central nervous system to the main brain. However, it has other actions too, as 90% of the vagal nerve fibres pass information from the gut to the brain rather than the other way around. Electrical stimulation of this nerve has been used as a treatment for depression, so our guts really do inform the brain in relation to our emotions. It has been found that approximately 95% of the body's total concentration of serotonin is found in the gut - serotonin is the feel good hormone ..."
If you or anyone you know has ever suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and tests have come up normal it's tempting for the medical profession to assume that the root cause must be psychosomatic. However, Tracy suggests that research indicates that lack of the transporter molecule for serotonin means that serotonin remains present to continue producing the muscular reflexes.
So IBS may be a 'gut brain' issue rather than a 'brain brain' issue. But what does that have to do with Reflexology, Indian Head Massage, or any other complementary therapy? Well, one thing I know for sure is that Reflexology and Indian Head Massage are relaxing - for almost everyone - and that there are something like 7,000 nerve endings on each foot sending sensory input to the brain(s). And if that sensory input is relaxing then the 'gut brain' will get the message just as quickly as the 'brain brain' - so mind and body can come into balance. And that can't be a bad thing, can it?