Gut instinct

Ever had someone tell you to follow your gut? Or maybe you’ve had a decision to make, and deep down there is something in your gut telling you what the correct answer or choice is.

While the brain has long been viewed as the centre of all emotions, researchers are increasingly trying to get to the bottom of this “gut instinct”.

What they have found is that the brain sends signals to our digestive system – this is hardly surprising –  but what is more intriguing is that our digestive system sends messages back to our brain.

Research has now revealed that  “gut instinct” is actually scientific fact.   For the past few decades, researchers have been studying the enteric nervous system (E.N.S.) — one of the main divisions of the nervous system which governs the function of the gastrointestinal system. What they have found tells us not only a lot about what governs our bowel, but also about what controls instincts, mood and even some diseases.

A recent article in Psychology Today explains that scientists now know that signals sent from the gastrointestinal tract to the brain affect:  sadness, stress, memory, learning, and decision-making.   This reverse signalling ( messages coming back from the gut to the brain) reveals how our “gut instinct” is not just a figment of our imagination.

Most of us realise that when we get nervous this affects our digestive system – we talk about our stomach tying itself in knots, we get “butterflies”.

Tests have recently been done on rats to explore the link between the brain and gut. The nerves taking the signal back from the gut to the brain were cut, and differences in these rats’ behaviour were closely observed.

From their experiments scientists found that rats without “gut instinct” were less wary – which could be interpreted as being less aware of things in their environment – and they took significantly longer to recover from unpleasant experiences.

This suggests that our guts do indeed place a vital role in helping us suss out whether situations are safe and OK for us, and they help us to reassess and adjust when a threat has passed.


As a colon hydrotherapist I find this fascinating – my job is to work with water and flush out people’s colons! People come for a variety of reasons – most for health, many to help with constipation and bloating.

But I am always surprised how many people feed back to me that it is not just a physical benefit that they feel from cleansing their colon. People also report a change in mood and often a sense of having “let go” some old experiences and emotions that were holding them back.

I recently offered my clients the opportunity to talk about their experiences of treatment with me on video – and a third of them talked about emotions – rather than bowel movements!

So maybe cleaning their large bowel helped perk up their “gut instinct” and enabled them to recover more quickly from unpleasant experiences – thus backing up the findings of the research on rats. Perhaps, as we learn more about the body, we’ll also find that just as the small intestine enables us to absorb nutrients and then the colon stores and then expels waste – so our Enteric Nervous System – our “gut instinct” – helps us process information and then helps us move on – brings us back into balance.

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Emily MumfordView all posts by Emily Mumford