Have you ever needed to hurry to the toilet during times of stress or after eating a spicy meal? This may be because taste buds lining your intestine can sense inflammatory chemicals and warn your brain to move things along.
We know little about these taste buds, known as enterochromaffin cells. They first provoked curiosity when it was discovered that they produce 90 per cent of the body’s serotonin, a chemical mostly known for regulating mood, appetite and sleep in the brain.
[Researchers] have discovered that enterochromaffin cells have receptors for sensing dietary irritants, stress hormones and bacterial byproducts. When exposed to these substances, the cells pump out serotonin molecules, which activate intestinal nerve endings that connect back to the brain.
The brain responds by speeding up bowel movements, or – if the situation is really bad – inducing diarrhea or vomiting.
The team found that the dietary irritant that activated this response most strongly was allyl isothiocyanate – a sulphur-containing compound found in wasabi, horseradish, cabbage and broccoli…Stress hormones – including adrenaline and noradrenaline – also had an activating effect. Levels of these chemicals in the gut rise in response to local inflammation there, but may also increase in response to general stress
[Read the full study here (behind paywall)]
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