What is your gut feeling? This is a question sometimes asked about anything awaiting a decision. Not only question, but fairly often someone wants help/advice from another person by way of asking “what is your gut feeling”. And hence the importance of gut feeling. What one really wants to emphasize in such a discourse is “do not think hard, just go with your instinct or intuition or for that matter “gut feeling”. Thus instinct, intuition, immediate or basic feeling, and reaction without logical rationale, could be considered as synonyms for gut feeling or vice versa. So-called sixth sense could also be an expression of the gut feeling.
It is matter of common knowledge that the brain uses a combination of logic and emotions when making decisions of any kind. That specific emotion characteristics of us, the humans, is intuition. The “intuition” or “gut feeling” is preponderant, real, and common to us all. In fact, there is no such thing as a purely logical decision, a good mix of logic and emotions has to be there. It is generally accepted, however, that going with the gut most often leads to positive and desirable outcome. Indeed there are certain feelings (gut) that humans obligatorily follow without concrete reasoning. Some studies do reveal that the body is able to speak intuitively to the mind and thus the decisions made. Conversely, what happens in our bodies is a reflection of what goes in our minds and thus a point of caution to be careful about following the gut instincts all the time. Well, irrespective of the fact that who controls/influences whom, brain and gut do have some intimate functional interaction.
According to researchers, gut feeling (intuition) is far more material (and not in the air, so to say) than it seems as the intuitive right brain is always keeping track of the happenings around and registering them even when conscious left brain is engaged somewhere else and blissfully unaware of what’s going on. Another interesting theory suggests that one can feel approaching events specifically because of dopamine neurons help keep track of reality and alert us to the subtle patterns that are not detectable consciously.
Interesting enough, women are believed to have a stronger ability to make a successful intuitive decision because of their exceptional skills in reading other humans probably suggesting a greater influence of their gut in decision making. At the same time, it is also accepted that female brains evolved in a way to have a larger composition and ability to organize chunks of information at a time, giving them an edge to read people. So ladies, trust your gut nevertheless.
The question arises “How to make a choice for the gut feeling that can be trusted”? Dr. Judith Orloff an intuitive psychiatrist and author of; Three Rivers Press, 2010), suggests that it’s a matter of “combining the linear mind and intuition,” and striking the right balance between gut instinct and rational thinking. Once you’ve noticed an intuitive hit, she says, you can engage your rational mind to weigh your choices and decide how best to act on them.Over the past few decades gut feeling has taken a twist in terms of its cause and expression. And this has to do with bacteria that inhabit our guts i.e. gut bacteria or gut microbiome. These bacteria (about 100 trillion) outnumber our own human cells and may weigh about the same as our brain (interesting, isn’t it?). The gut is often referred to as our ‘second brain’ (so nothing wrong or surprising when following gut feeling) given the complex network of 100 million neurons within the gut wall. The vagus nerve connecting the gut to the brain is thought to play a key role in communication between our gut bacteria and brain. Gut bacteria can also directly produce or modulate the levels of certain neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine and GABA or gamma aminobutyric acid) that are all known to affect our mood and behavior. Bacteria may also trigger changes in the brain via the immune or hormonal systems. Various mechanisms through which the brain and gut bacteria may interact are part of the microbiome-gut-brain axis or nexus.
The gut microbiome has been implicated in many medical conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes and obesity, besides well documented effect on behaviorial traits. Manipulating the gut microbiome can reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, and activity of brain regions involved in emotional processing. Gut microbiome plays a major role in human biology from food processing to immune system regulation and even transmission of brain signals that regulate behavior and mood. Research into the role that microbiota in the gut might play in the human immune system started in the late 1990s. It is possible that the mammalian immune system, which seems to be designed to control microorganisms, is in fact controlled by microorganisms. One view is that gut microbiome is probably a “forgotten” organ or the one that has been seriously neglected.
In addition to our physical health, the gut microbiota has also been shown to affect the functioning of the central nervous system and has been linked to schizophrenia and autism. Excessive use of antibiotics and imbalanced dietary habits may seriously affect the composition of gut bacteria – for better or for worse. The everyday increase in the availability of probiotics do provide the conceptual basis of how important the gut microbes are. Development of probiotic or prebiotic (food for microbiome) therapies is at the increase to manipulate microbiome composition and help improve mood and treat conditions such as anxiety and depression. Since some of the microbes in the human body can modify the regulation of some neurotransmitters, it may be possible to use certain microorganisms to supplement. Research also appears to be underway to develop a synthetic biology that would improve the gut microbiome by re-engineering microbes to improve physical performance and overall health.
Dr. Gary Wu, professor of gastroenterology at the University of Pennsylvania, USA, says that the way microbiome develops in our childhood may affect our risk of obesity and chronic disease later in life; inflammation being the most likely the common thread. In fact, inflammation is considered to be our immune system’s main weapon against foreign invaders, and one layer of cells is all that separates the immune system from the gut microbiome. This means that a healthy, balanced microbiome can discourage inflammation while an unbalanced microbiome can encourage inflammation.
How to keep the gut microbiome happy and functional to produce the feeling that is so important in day to day matters. Gut microbiome is very diverse and so has to be the food they require. Thus a connection between what we eat and the health of our microbiome. Plants-based diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and few highly processed foods provide an abundance of prebiotics (food for the beneficial bacteria that need to be reared). Regular use of fermented foods (yogurt for example), which contain beneficial “probiotic” microbes, may also shift our gut microbiota in a healthier direction. We need to appreciate that the human genome (consisting of around 30,000 genes) essentially remains unchanged in our lifetime. The gut microbiome, on the other hand, contains about 150 times as many genes, but changes significantly (due to death and decay of one type and proliferation of some others) in response to our diet and lifestyle habits. Better it would be to induce and maintain a positive change in microbial diversity in the gut.
In summary, it would appear that gut feeling is fairly well dependent on the interaction of brain with the gut microbiomes. Manipulation and careful handling of the latter will not only help in healthcare but improve the gut feeling as well. Food habits and thus the pre- and probiotics have a big role to play.You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ for more updates. Otherwise fill in the subscription box above, or subscribe to our RSS Feed.