Have you ever had a gut instinct about something? A gut instinct describes a certain feeling or knowingness that resides deep in our stomachs. We sometimes ignore these feelings at our peril, preferring to listen to our minds. What would our stomachs know, after all? Well, the answer is a lot.

Recent research has shown that our gut acts as a second brain, controlling our enteric nervous system whilst our 'upper'  brain controls our central nervous system. Our upper brains developed and evolved over time so we could improve our problem-solving capacity and better feed ourselves with the lower brain or our stomachs, working predominantly on the process of digestion.

In many ways the brain and gut are partners, they communicate with each other and have a strong, direct link between them. They use the same 'language' or neurotransmitters. Serotonin is one of them. In the upper brain, the language of serotonin means a sense of well-being and happiness; in the gut it means a well-regulated immune system. Interestingly, 75% of the serotonin that our body produces is in the gut which is another important reason to take care of what we put into our bodies. Our gut has the ability to affect our emotions just like our emotions influence our gut. It's a two-way process.

When the brain and gut miscommunicate, disease occurs. A common communication problem is irritable bowel syndrome or IBS and this is due to neuronal hyperactivity. People carry a lot of things subconsciously in their stomachs. Our upper brain discards both the digestion of food and the digestion of undesired emotional hurt to our lower brain. As a result, hypnosis has been found to be very effective in the management of IBS pain. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have also recommended hypnotherapy along with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and psychological therapy in helping people with IBS to cope with their symptoms. MRI scans have shown great improvements in areas of the brain associated with pain after hypnosis.

Our mind doesn't exist in just one part of our body everything is connected. Our mind is also strongly influenced by our bodies internal chemistry. Our enteric nervous system directly effects how our brain perceives the world giving us the ability to resist depression and be more resilient to life's stresses. In many ways our gut is a contributor to our subconscious. Listen to your gut and take care of it. One way of doing this is to improve your gut flora by eating yogurts or foods with probiotics. Another way is to deal with any problem or upset you might encounter instead of repressing it. And finally, listen to your gut. After all, your gut is your second brain.

Further reading

Meet the therapist: Natasha Kelly

How emotional health affects gut health

Why taking care of your gut could improve mental health

Why relationships will always be challenging without self-awareness