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Did You Know You Have A Second Brain In Your Gut?

Published on 24th January 2019


If you have ever followed a “gut feeling” or experienced “butterflies” in your stomach when nervous, then you are likely to be getting signals from your “second brain”.  This “brain in your gut”, according to the Johns Hopkins Centre for Neurogastroenterology, is hidden in the walls of your digestive system and is called the enteric nervous system (ENS).

Anxiety and depression have long been thought to be linked to digestive problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and as scientists learn more about this “second brain”, it is revolutionising their understanding of the links between digestion, health and mood. 

IBS is a relatively common condition that causes stomach cramps, diarrhoea, bloating and constipation and can have a real impact on the daily lives of the people who suffer from it.  The exact cause of IBS is not known but is has been linked to food passing through the gut too quickly, over-sensitive nerves in the gut and stress. 

Whilst there is no cure for IBS, sufferers can help their symptoms by following these guidelines:


  • Cook homemade meals
  • Keep a food diary and note any symptoms so you can avoid foods which trigger your IBS
  • Try to find ways to relax
  • Take regular exercise


  • Skip meals
  • Eat too quickly
  • Eat spicy, fatty or processed foods
  • Eat more than 3 portions of fruit per day
  • Drink more than 3 cups of tea or coffee per day
  • Drink a lot of fizzy drinks or alcohol

NICE guidelines also state that CBT and hypnotherapy are thought to be useful in helping people with IBS to cope with their symptoms. According to Psychology Research & Behaviour Management; “CBT has been tested most rigorously in multiple randomized controlled trials and consistently demonstrates significant and durable effects on IBS symptoms and quality of life.” 

Researchers in the Netherlands found that hypnotherapy may help improve the symptoms of IBS.  They compared the effects of people in a control group having hypnotherapy for IBS and found that more than half of the participants experienced relief from their symptoms, compared to less than a quarter of the people who received only advice and support.

Research into the “second brain” and its effect on mood is certainly giving renewed hope to IBS sufferers that greater understanding of this condition will lead to more effective treatments in the future.  In the meantime, it would seem that relaxation, CBT and hypnotherapy may well be powerful tools in managing symptoms.


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