By Bob Condor

Over the last decade, scientists have speculated that our intestinal linings contain certain cells that are exactly the same molecular structure as brain cells. From there, the scientists make the logical and seemingly feasible assumption that our guts act as a second brain in the body, even dispensing orders and signals to other cells.

Gut instinct, indeed.

A study just published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology gives credence to the “second-brain” nature of the gut—and, perhaps even more surprisingly, the study gives some major props to the healing power of hypnotherapy. Forget the hypnotist at the county fair. British researchers have shown that one 50-minute hypnosis session can significantly reduce the inflammation associated with ulcerative colitis in the colon and rectum, which is as disruptive to quality of life as it sounds with abdominal pain and chronic diarrhea.

In the new study, admittedly small, the Brit researchers administered a 50-minute session of “gut-focused” hypnotherapy to 17 patients with ulcerative colitis. The hypnotherapy was designed to reduce inflammation and encourage relaxation. A control group of eight patients with colitis were allowed to listen to music of their choice as their “therapy.”

After the 50 minutes, the researchers measured a marker of inflammation, IL-6, through blood tests. The patients undergoing hypnotherapy dropped their IL-6 by more than 50 percent. Individuals in the control group enjoyed no change in IL-6 measurements. Moreover,

other chemical markets of inflammation were further reduced in the hypnotherapy group and unchanged among the control participants.

What impressed the researchers is that one “short” hypnotherapy session made such a big impact. While they didn’t speculate on just why or how hypnosis clears inflammation—the DHB is going the second-gut hypothesis—the scientists did strongly suggest the results dictate a larger clinical trial to see if hypnotherapy can benefit colitis patients even more over weeks or months.

Previous research shows that hypnosis can improve quality of life and symptoms for individuals with ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome. The British scientists did suggest that perhaps hypnotherapy helps all three conditions because all three are subject to fluctuation and worsening of symptoms due to psychological stress. Hypnotherapy can potentially remedy those flare-ups without drugs.

We’ll just have to hope more researchers, um, follow their gut instincts on this one.

“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing . He is also the Living Well columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer . He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors' Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.