What is a Gut Feeling?

Everyone has gut feelings, but what does that mean in a culture that wants everything to be logical? Is it valuable to listen to your gut or is the evolution towards listening only to your brain/mind a good way to go? I’m a big believer in the inherent wisdom and knowing that your body holds – especially your gut.

Gut instincts - your gut always knows. www.dramyneuzil.com

Gut instincts – your gut always knows. www.dramyneuzil.com

What is a Gut Feeling?

A gut feeling is a  sudden strong feeling about something that doesn’t necessarily have thoughts behind it, it’s more like intuition or an inherent sense that you “know” something. It’s the sense you know something even though you don’t know why you know it. There may even be a body sense of that feeling – a literal sensation, usually in your stomach area, that gives you a very simple idea of what your body likes or doesn’t like. Gut feelings can be instant judgements about another person, about a situation, or just a sudden sense of “knowing.”

Your Gut is Your Second Brain

Technically, your gut has some 100,000,000 neurons (that’s a hundred million) which is more neurons than are in your spinal cord. Over 30 neurotransmitters are present within the digestive tract and 95% of your body’s serotonin is found in your bowels. The brain and the gut communicate, but while only 20% of the information flow goes from brain to gut, 80% goes from gut to brain.  There isn’t that much information about digestion, so the gut must be giving other information as well, potentially about emotional state and also potentially contributing to the “gut feeling”. This second brain certainly influences your state of mind. “A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut,” says Emran Mayer, professor of physiology, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.).

Butterflies in the stomach, which are signals from the gut in response to stress, is a simple example of how your “second brain” might contribute to emotions and information processing. Everyday emotions, according to Michael Gershon, author of The Second Brain, may rely on messages from the brain below to the brain above. One example given by Gershon is the new depression treatment which involves electrically stimulating the vagus nerve. This may actually mimic the healthy signals from your gut, therefore telling your brain that all is well.

Trust Your Intuition

In a general sense, your gut feeling is your body’s only way of telling you yes, or no, or if something feels unsafe.  As a doctor (and as a woman) I always encourage people to trust their gut feelings – about people, about situations, even about foods that they eat or supplements that they take. If you stop to listen, your body will give you a gut feeling about many situations that has the potential to be a far more relevant signal than what you think about that thing.  It’s easy to get into convoluted thought loops about things, but your gut and your intuition are pretty direct. Bottom line? Gut feelings are usually important – pay attention.