About how stress affects IBS. To completely understand how stress affects the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it is important to have an understanding of the brain-gut axis. The brain gut axis is a bidirectional continuous feedback loop between the gut and the brain. The gut has its own ‘second brain’ which controls the process of digestion and absorption and communicates back and forth from the main brain. The reason why we say the gut has its own brain is because the gut consists of a number of neurons which control the digestion, absorption, the mixing of food and muscle contractions.
The brain-gut axis is the reason why we have feelings like ‘butterflies in the stomach’ or a feeling of nausea before having to deliver an important presentation at work. This happens because the gut responds strongly to your thoughts and emotions. For example, even just the thought of food can cause your stomach to release juices in preparation of the food.
IBS may not be caused by psychological factors but emotional stress worsens the symptoms of IBS The reason for this is that movement and contraction of the GI tract can altered by stress. The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that relax and contract in a rhythm that moves food from the stomach through the intestinal tract. During times of stress, individuals with IBS experience stronger contractions which last for a long time and cause gastrointestinal issues such as gas, bloating and diarrhoea.
The opposite could also happen with some people where the food is not digested properly causing constipation. Stress can also directly or indirectly affects the composition and growth of the micro biota in the gut which disturbs the two way communication between the gut and the brain and alters the functioning of the gut worsening the symptoms of IBS.
Recommendations to reduce stress:
- Intervention from a mental health professional: a clinical psychologist may be able to use cognitive behavioural therapy to help manage the stress.
- Exercise: Walking, running, hiking, riding a bike, yoga or tai chi are some ways of relieving stress.
- Meditation and deep breathing exercises
- Relaxation activities such as listening to music and spending time with friends and family.
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This article was written by our dietitian and nutritionist Juhi Bhambhaney. If you have questions regarding health and nutrition, make an appointment with one of our dietitians. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today!