Gut instinct, that feeling that you intensely dislike someone or the nervous butterflies or that nagging that you need to stop for a while – all these feelings are like a second brain in action and prove our gastrointestinal system are closely connected to our brain.

Patricia Casey, writing for the Irish Independent, makes the case that our ‘gut’ is controlled by the limbic system in our brain – which is also in charge of emotions. The vagus nerve also runs from the brain to the upper digestive system and Serotonin (a hormone in the brain and linked to depression etc) has many more receptors in the gut than the brain.

There is a good point made in the article that it is not just a mind-gut relationship but that it is a two way system. For example, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is associated with higher levels of depression and patients with cancers of the gut may present with psychological symptoms rather than physical symptoms. There is the possibility that a patient may experience a self repeating loop of gut illness causing depression causing gut illness.

So many times it’s possible that instead of listening to our bodies we tend to ignore them on the advice of ‘learned men and women’. Modern life and social attitudes can make it feel wrong to somehow listen to what our bodies are telling us.

This connection between our brain, emotions and our gut would also help explain the common experience of being unable to consume food or ‘having no mind’ for food during times of heightened emotions e.g. sadness or nervousness.

Particularly when it comes to stress and mental illness, we tend to ignore the warning signs of anger, irritability, unhappiness, boredom and that sense of dread of going back to work on Monday morning. Prolonged periods of time in the wrong job or following the wrong path could be hugely damaging to our health and may emerge as physical illness.

We are only now beginning to accept the gut’s importance in keeping us healthy. It is home to millions of bacteria and an imbalance or lack of bacteria in the gut can cause us to fall ill or suffer from incomplete digestion of our food. Further research into the role of the gut in affecting our mental makeup and emotional balance would be a step in the right direction towards understanding whole body health and wellness rather than the narrow symptom based approach to health currently applied by western medicine.