Listen to Your Gut: Three Cues to Digest

You know that feeling, the one in your stomach that tells you when something is not quite right? We use the colloquialism “gut feeling” to describe an emotion – an intuition – that we feel in our stomach, deep within the core of our being. We use other terms, too, to describe feelings that originate from our gut. Telling someone you have “butterflies in your stomach” is a way of communicating that you’re feeling some combination of excited/nervous/unsettled. Telling someone your “stomach is upset” generally communicates that you’ve eaten something wrong or you’re stressed. When kids tussle, they often aim for the “gut” – a tender, vulnerable, relatively large target.

Our “gut,” the system that includes the stomach and digestive tract, is rather large; together, 25 feet of long and short intestines absorb nutrients from the food we consume. Because the gut is such a big and important system, it makes sense that this part of our body has been called our “second brain.” After our brain, our gut system contains the most nerve sensors of any other part in our body. Our brain and our gut are connected by the vagus nerve, along which chemicals and hormones flow and neurons send messages that we feel in our stomach, like “I’m hungry” or “Uh-Oh!”

In addition to the metaphorical reasons for listening to your gut, here are three reasons you should be listening to your gut, literally. Hear your gastrointestinal system in all its glory!

1.Your “gut flora” is saying something

Your gastrointestinal tract is home to a “microbiome” of bacteria working for you! What we are able to comfortably digest depends on what bacteria exist in our stomach. If something isn’t sitting right, maybe it was too acidic or too sugary?  Thank the bacteria in your stomach for cuing you to check the expiration date on the yogurt you just ate. Similarly, a craving is a cry from your stomach’s microbiome for something your body needs.

2.Sounds mean movement, and movement = good

Stomach rumbling? Yes, you must have smelled, or maybe even imagined, something tasty. A gurgling stomach is basically your gut flora preparing to get to work. Most people get embarrassed with sounds from the gut, but we should be proud – it’s working!

3.Your sick stomach is NEVER only food-related

This concept is the basis of Ayurveda: ayur, meaning “life,” and veda meaning “knowledge.” Ayurveda is therefore the knowledge/study/science of life in the holistic sense, considering all internal and external factors affecting our life. Since our gut is in communication with our brain, by the transitive property, a gut in discomfort signals that the brain is also in some form of discomfort. A happy person (brain #1!) means a happy gut (brain #2!), and the inverse, as well.