THE ABDOMINAL BRAIN
The Edgar Cayce readings consistently maintain that certain serious neurological disorders (such as epilepsy and migraine) are caused by pathology in the abdomen. On the surface, this seems implausible. However, a brief historical review of the literature and a consideration of modern medical research supports Cayce’s position.
To understand the connection between the gut and the brain, we must delve into the realm of anatomy and physiology. In other words, what is it about the abdomen that could possibly produce such an extreme neurological reaction as to cause a seizure in the brain or a migraine headache? To answer this important question, it is helpful to review the medical literature of the early decades of this century. For example, the work of Byron Robinson, M.D., a well respected physician and researcher of that era, exemplifies the position that the abdomen contains a secondary brain. (Click here to view an illustration of the abdominal brain.)
“In mammals there exist two brains of almost equal importance to the individual and race. One is the cranial brain, the instrument of volitions, of mental progress and physical protection. The other is the abdominal brain, the instrument of vascular and visceral function. It is the automatic, vegetative, the subconscious brain of physical existence. In the cranial brain resides the consciousness of right and wrong. Here is the seat of all progress, mental and moral … However, in the abdomen there exists a brain of wonderful power maintaining eternal, restless vigilance over its viscera. It presides over organic life. It dominates the rhythmical function of viscera….The abdominal brain is a receiver, a reorganizer, an emitter of nerve forces. It has the power of a brain. It is a reflex center in health and disease….
The abdominal brain is not a mere agent of the [cerebral] brain and cord; it receives and generates nerve forces itself; it presides over nutrition. It is the center of life itself. In it are repeated all the physiologic and pathologic manifestations of visceral function (rhythm, absorption, secretion, and nutrition). The abdominal brain can live without the cranial brain, which is demonstrated by living children being born without cerebrospinal axis. On the contrary the cranial brain can not live without the abdominal brain….” (Robinson, 1907, pp. 123 -126)
Robinson was not alone in his fascination with the nervous system of the abdomen. At about the same time that Robinson was discovering the abdominal brain, British physiologist Johannis Langley of Cambridge University recognized that:
“… the ganglia of the gut do more than simply relay and distribute information from the cephalic [cerebral] brain. He was unable to reconcile conceptually the great disparity between the 2 X 10 (8) neurons in the gut and the few hundred vagus fibers from the big brain, other than to suggest that the nervous system of the gut was capable of integrative functions independent of the central nervous system.” (Wood, 1994, p. 424)
Langley labeled the brain in the gut the enteric nervous system (ENS). Although for several decades Robinson and Langley’s work has been ignored, modern medical research has finally rediscovered the abdominal brain with its enteric nervous system. In fact, research on the nerve connections in the abdomen is one of the “hot” areas of medical research.
“To a considerable extent, the new interest in exploring the ENS has come from the realization that both the ENS and the remainder of the autonomic nervous system are richly endowed with neurotransmitters and neuromodulators. Many substances are found in both the bowel and the brain, a coincidence that strikes most observers as intrinsically interesting, if not immediately explicable.” (Gershon, Kirchgessner & Wade, 1994, p. 386)
In addition to the biochemical and structural similarities between the cerebral brain and the abdominal brain, contemporary researchers are drawing computer analogies and using information processing models to describe the relationship between the brains of the body.
“The cephalic [cerebral] brain communicates with the smaller brain in the gut in a manner analogous to that of interactive communication between networked computers…. The current concept of the enteric nervous system is that of a minibrain placed in close proximity to the effector systems it controls. Rather than crowding the hundred million neurons required for control of the gut into the cranial cavity as part of the cephalic brain, and transmitting signals over long-unreliable pathways, natural selection placed the integrative microcircuits at the site of the effectors.” (Wood, 1994, p. 424)
To extend Wood’s computer analogy of the enteric nervous system to a neurological illness such as epilepsy, one might say that the nervous system network “crashes” during a seizure. The linkage between the abdominal brain and cerebral brain is broken. Depending upon the severity of the incoordination, much of the information processing and regulatory functioning of the entire nervous system may temporarily go “offline.”
Consistent with the growing body of medical information on the “abdominal brain” and enteric nervous system, Cayce referred to the abdominal brain as the “solar plexus brain,” (2259-1 & 1800-15), the “secondary brain” (294-212), and the “central brain in the solar plexus” (4613-1). Research into this aspect of nervous system functioning holds great promise, especially as it lends insight into Edgar Cayce’s view of the body.
Gershon, M. D., Kirchgessner, A. L., & Wade, P. R. (1994). Functional anatomy of the enteric nervous system. In L. R. Johnson, (Ed.), Physiology of the gastrointestinal tract (3rd ed.). (Vol.1). New York: Raven Press.
Robinson, B. (1907). The adominal and pelvic brain. Hammond, Indiana: Frank S. Betz.
Wood, J. D. (1994). Physiology of the enteric nervous system. In L.R.Johnson, (Ed.), Physiology of the gastrointestinal tract (3rd ed.). (Vol.1). New York: Raven Press.