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You have a tough decision to make, you’re stressed, having trouble sleeping, maybe can’t even eat. What do you do when you just can’t make up your mind? Well, often, you turn the age-old saying, “Trust your gut.”
It turns out that “gut feeling” is more than just intuition. Our small and large intestines (aka “the gut”) actually have more influence on our emotions, mood and choices than any other organ—including the brain.
The gut, sometimes referred to as the “second brain,” is connected to the (first) brain by neurons, chemicals and hormones. That connection provides feedback about how hungry we are, whether we’re experiencing stress or if we ate something our body doesn’t like. The sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you’re stressed? Yup, it’s real.
Not convinced? Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen writes about two studies that show this mind-body connection.
First is a study involving mice at University College Cork in Ireland. By feeding some mice probiotics (which are commonly found in yogurt) and other mice bacteria-free broth, then making them swim in deep water, they found the mice who ate probiotics continued, while the mice without them gave up quickly—indicating depression.
The same was found when putting the mice in a maze; those who ate probiotics ventured out more, indicating the ones without probiotics were experiencing more anxiety.
The second study, from McMaster University, found the gut may also affect our personalities. One strain of mice in this study was outgoing, while a different group was shy. After giving them antibiotics to eliminate all gut bacteria, they fed each group the gut bacteria of the opposite mouse strain. No surprise here—they swapped personalities.
Hendriksen says there is also a theory that our food cravings may actually be caused by our gut bacteria. It’s an untested theory, but Hendriksen says it might even explain why we first get strong cravings while on a diet, but then the cravings get quieter. “Is this because sugar-loving bacteria starved and ended up in the toilet? We don’t know, but researchers are trying to find out,” she writes.
So now we know about this connection, but what can we do to change it if it’s out of whack? Dr. Emeran Mayer recommends a few things in his book “The Mind-Gut Connection.” First, eat a diet high in plants and low in animal fats. Also, be sure to avoid processed food and food additives, as they can disrupt your intestinal lining. Lastly and one we should all do no matter what—reduce your stress.
Also, a personal recommendation from someone with a major anxiety/unhappy gut connection (i.e., me), try out probiotics or try some digestive yoga to get your gut moving and happy. Of course, while you shouldn’t base your entire life on just one feeling, you have to admit your initial decision is usually right and your gut may be telling you just what to do.