If you’ve never listened to your gut, you may be pleased to know that you’re not alone. In fact a recent Love Your Gut survey has shown that the majority of the nation (81%) is clueless about the health signs their gut is giving them. Almost three quarters (74%) even admit they rarely get concerned about the health of their digestive system.

But the digestive system is unique in the sense that it communicates signs – healthy and warning signs, using all of the five senses to provide health indicators. So by listening, tasting, seeing, smelling and feeling more, you can really tune in to your gut.

  • Sound: The rumbles and groans generated in your abdomen are caused by the propulsion of gas and fluid through different regions of the gut. The fluid is a mixture of food, drink and digestive juices and the gas may either be swallowed air, carbon dioxide generated by the combination of acid and alkaline digestive juices in the stomach and small intestine and hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide caused by fermentation of unabsorbed carbohydrates and protein in the colon. These noises are more obvious when you are hungry or nervous because stimulation of the vagus nerves cause gut propulsion.
  • Sight: Faeces can differ in colour, but black and tarry stools can indicate bleeding in the small intestine or stomach while pale stools accompanied by dark urine could indicate gall stones. The different appearance of the stool depicted in the Bristol Stool chart are probably related to variation in colonic transit brought about by food and mood; the harder the stool, the slower the transit.
  • Feel: Crampy, abdominal pains are most likely due to spasm but if persistent may indicate intestinal obstruction. Pain like a knife just below the breast bone that is relieved by eating may suggest peptic ulceration. Pain in the right upper corner of the abdomen that goes to the back just below the right shoulder blade may indicate gallstones. Bloating may be related to a combination of stress and ingestion of gassy fruit and vegetables.
  • Taste: Sufferers of acid reflux may experience a sour taste caused by regurgitated stomach acid.
  • Smell: Contrary to popular belief, men don’t produce smellier wind! The smell of an individual’s wind is related to the fermentation of unabsorbed carbohydrate and protein food and therefore relates to what they have been eating, how much escapes absorption and the effect of stress on gut transit.

For more information, look at The IBS Network’s Self-Care Programme.