Accepted thinking about intestinal flora was that it wasn’t possible to repair imbalances in gut functions. New study evidence from Johns Hopkins University found a healthy adult gut loses and regenerates a third of its nerve cells every week.
The results debunk the belief that the gut nerve cells you have at birth are the same for life.
The findings will change the understanding and treatment of conditions affecting the digestive system.
The digestive tract contains a network of millions of nerve cells (neurons).
Earlier studies suggested a healthy gut generates few or no new neurons. The Johns Hopkins study showed a healthy small intestine loses and regenerates about 5% of its nerve cells daily (a third weekly).
The enteric nervous system, your intestinal brain, regenerates and the entire network is completely replaced every few weeks.
The enteric nervous system controls and regulates:
Your digestive tract is the second largest nervous system in your body.
The team used a variety of techniques to identify proteins associated with neural cell death and observe the loss of neurons in the small intestine of lab mice.
Scientists knew the population of enteric neurons in the small intestine remains close to the same most of adult life.
The team focused on tracing and following the behavior of cells that expressed Nestin, a protein typically associated with brain stem cells. The research team found that some enteric neural precursor cells generated new neurons rapidly. This maintains the neuronal population, which would die out.
Anything that changes the balance may cause disease.
This evidence explains how the gut maintains itself in the face of constant exposure to:
The mice get an entirely new ‘brain’ in the gut every few weeks.
The new study results will provide understanding of many other diseases affecting the other organ systems this nervous system communicates with like the brain.
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