Trust your gut (sometimes!)

I was talking to Dr. Erin Greilik

recently about the neuroscience of brain gut connection; not the sort of topic that just comes up in random conversation, right? But Erin and I were discussing a “gut feeling” I had about something and Erin told me I should listen to it.

By personality bent and professional training, I’m not one to trust in gut feelings. As a lawyer I want to see the evidence. Prove to me that this road is taking me where I want to go. Convince me with facts. Don’t try to blow sunshine at me by talking about seemingly spongy “gut feelings”.

But Erin says there’s a basis for trusting your gut. Neuroscience supports a connection between the brain and the stomach. She told me about an experiment where volunteers were given past weather related information for a particular day and then were asked to predict what the weather the next day was. Initially the participants were right about 50-50. But the volunteers were given immediate feedback on whether they were right or wrong and after about 20 or so times, most of the volunteers got better–a lot better–at their predictions. Most of them jumped to being 70% accurate after being given feedback on whether they had predicted rightly or wrongly. The participants were then asked how they did it. What patterns did they detect? How had they improved? And you know what? None of them could explain it. The couldn’t articulate how they had improved. They just knew the right answer “in their gut”.

I found this gut brain connection has been recognized over and over by scientists, like those at the Toronto Neurology Centre where they say:
What is the Gut-Brain Axis? Have you ever wondered why we use the expressions “gut-feeling” or “butterflies in your stomach?” These phrases stem from the connection between our gut health and brain function. This connection is called the Gut-Brain Axis, which is a bi-directional communication network that links the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) with the enteric nervous system (the digestive system). Your brain and digestive system send messages to each other and can affect one another’s health and functioning. Disturbances to the gut-brain axis may be associated with many neurological conditions, some of which include anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

So next time your gut tells you something, listen to it. I’m not saying your gut is always right. Sometimes we eat the wrong stuff and our gut gives us bad feedback(!) But there’s something to be said for those gut feelings. Don’t just dismiss them. Evaluate and test them.

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