One of my favorite books is The Second Brain, by Dr. Michael Gershon, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. He dubs the entire gastrointestinal system the body’s second nervous system. “The brain is not the only place in the body that’s full of neurotransmitters,” says Dr. Gershon. “A hundred million neurotransmitters line the length of the gut, approximately the same number that is found in the brain…”
The gut also produces chemicals called benzodiazepines. These are the same chemicals found in anti-anxiety drugs like Valium, and these are the same chemicals that alleviate pain. Perhaps our gut is truly our body’s anxiety and pain reliever. While we are not sure whether the gut synthesizes benzodiazepine from chemicals in our foods, bacterial actions, or both, we know that in times of extreme pain, the gut goes into overdrive, delivering benzodiazepine to the brain. The result is to render the patient unconscious or at least reduce the pain, says Dr. Anthony Basile, a neurochemist in the Neuroscience Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.