New research from Florida State University has revealed that our instincts are actually working to protect us from making mistakes. The team found that signals traveling from the gut to the brain guide our behavior to help us avoid getting into bad situations.
Gut-to-brain signals bounce back and forth along a nerve that wanders throughout our organs called the vagus nerve. This nerve monitors a range of activities in our bodies including hormonal response, heart rate, and digestion.
Neuroscientist Linda Rinaman teamed up with James Maniscalco from the University of Illinois to examine published studies on the link between the vagus nerve and behavior.
“The neuroscience of gut feelings has come a long way in my lifetime,” said Rinaman. “And we are learning more valuable lessons every day.”
The team found that our gut instincts have a major influence on our emotional state and behavior, particularly when we are in a troublesome situation or feel threatened.
The vagus nerve is part of a complex protective system that guides our decisions, prompting us to re-evaluate a situation or avoid it altogether.
Previous research has provided evidence that an unhealthy diet can obstruct this protective process, leading to altered mood and behavior.
Rinaman explained that the bacterial content of the gut is shaped by our diet and these bacteria have a significant influence on our emotional and cognitive state.
“Evidence shows that modifying the diet, perhaps by consuming probiotics, can impact your mood and behavioral state,” says Rinaman.
“But how does that work? Does it involve the microbiome that you feed in your gut and how those bacteria send signals back to the brain through the vagus nerve? That area of research has exploded in the last few years and, currently, there are many more questions than answers.”
The study is published in the journal Physiology.