BY DR. PHIL WAGNER, M.D.
We talk so much about the nervous system’s role in athletic performance, particularly the central nervous system; the brain and spinal cord (see Sparta Point 11/24/10). But there is another nervous system with even more neurons (nerve cells), often referred to as our “the second brain.” It is called the enteric nervous system.
The enteric nervous system consists of some 100 million neurons lining the walls of our gut. According to Michael Gershon and his book, “The Second Brain”, these neurons regulate the breakdown of food, absorption of nutrients, and expelling of waste. These processes are critical for body composition; losing fat and gaining muscle.
However, more recent research by Gershon and others have also pointed to the importance of the gut to the body's immune response. After all, at least 70 percent of our immune system is aimed at the gut to expel and kill foreign invaders.
One of the most crucial aspects of gut health is keeping those intestinal muscles strong. Thankfully, there is an easy way to provide exercise to your gut. Fiber, which is defined as the indigestible portion of plant foods, gives the intestines something solid to clamp on during digestion. Without this fiber, your intestinal muscles get weak and flabby, just like other muscles without exercise. Gershon explains how this weakness then compromises the immune system because of the intestines inability to expel its contents.
As far as fiber, vegetables are the most nutrient dense food available to us, providing more vitamins, minerals, and fiber per calorie. While our athletes do not count calories, this density is important because you can more of it, meaning more quantity of nutrients at a sitting. For example, you can eat more than double the amount of broccoli to equal the calories of just one piece of multi grain bread (see Sparta Point 6/24/09).
So when you do your regen check (see Sparta Point 1/20/10), go for those 8 servings of vegetables a day, 2 fistfuls at every meal. You may not think it helps that much, but your second brain knows it will keep your immune system stronger and improve body composition.