Humans can eat an astounding variety of foods, allowing humans to survive — and thrive — in radically different landscapes with varied diets, from the mostly-meat-and-fat meals of the Inuit people of Canada’s far north, to plant-munching vegans.

Ultimately, the credit for that flexibility goes to our digestive system. The complex human gut can process the milk and meat of other animals, cooked and raw combinations of foods, and a wide variety of plants — be them fermented, roasted, dried, salted or something else. The system that manages the physical and chemical breakdown of foods, the extraction of nutrients from them, and the efficient ejection of waste is so complex that it turns out it even has its own brain. And as Giulia Enders, a German writer and scientist, explains in her TEDTalk, there’s a lot more to know.

Holistic health advocates have long suggested a brain-gut connection. We already know that 90 percent of the serotonin our body makes (often called the “happy chemical”) is produced in special cells in the GI tract. Half of the dopamine we make is located there, too. Both serotonin and dopamine have a physiological function and also influence mood when they make their way out of the gut and into the blood stream. Connecting the dots between the known function of those neurotransmitters, it’s possible the Enteric Nervous System (ENS)- a collection of over 500 million neurons- could act in a more direct way to influence our emotions and state of mind, though this has yet to be understood fully by scientists.

You’re going to want to learn more about how this new study offers a window into how our second brain works.

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