IBS and Stress. Gut – Brain Connection.

The influence of stress on the development of functional indigestion. IBS and Stress Connection

IBS and Stress. Gut – Brain Connection

If you have ever experienced the so-called “butterflies in the gut”, then you know how the influence of stress on sensations in the intestines manifests itself. In most cases, IBS and stress manifest simultaneously. And by lowering your stress level, you can reduce the symptoms of IBS.

  • What is stress?
  • The Fight-or-Flight response.
  • What is the connection between the gut and stress?
  • Gut - Brain Axis, the second brain.
  • Meditation, hypnotherapy and Art therapy for IBS treatment

What is stress?

Before we understand the connection between stress and IBS, it is important to understand how stress affects our body and what causes stress. Stress is the body’s reaction to difficult or dangerous situations, which triggers the “fight or flight” reaction responsible for protective reactions in the body. When this reaction is activated, the heart rate increases, the stress hormone cortisol is released, blood circulation to some organs slows down, and digestion processes slow down.

Types of stress include:

  • Eustress is the so-called positive stress, which manifests itself as a feeling of pleasant excitement and energy.
  • Short-term stress – can cause both positive and negative effects, manifests itself acutely, after which the body quickly recovers and returns to normal.
  • Chronic stress is a long-term state of stress, which can last for months or even years, while the cortisol level is always elevated, a person is overcome by causeless fears and anxieties.

The Fight-or-Flight response

For our ancestors, when meeting with predators and enemies, the stress reaction was necessary for survival. It provided an additional release of energy so that people could fight enemies or quickly run away from them. The purpose of the “fight or flight” response is to divert as much oxygenated blood as possible from certain organs, including the digestive organs, and deliver it to the muscles of the arms and legs. The “fight or flight” response perfectly helped our ancestors to survive when attacked by a wild animal, but in the modern world, such situations are rare. But nowadays we have other sources of stress, such as deadlines and a busy work schedule, which over time can cause chronic stress. It negatively affects the entire body, leads to exhaustion of the nervous system and can manifest itself in diseases such as IBS.

What is the connection between IBS and stress?

Stress provokes many changes in the body, affects hormones, nerve endings and bacteria in the gut. All these changes can provoke the appearance of IBS:

  • Increased sensitivity. Stress increases sensitivity to pain in response to stretching of the gut and rectum, which leads to pain in IBS.
  • Activation of the brain area responsible for attention leads to increased sensations concentration in the body, and as a result, to an increase in perceived pain.
  • Gut microflora changes. Stress provokes changes in intestinal blood flow and changes the activity of the immune system — as a result, the intestinal walls become sensitive to irritants. With psychological stress, the composition of the microbiota changes, and the number of pathogenic microorganisms increases.
  • Immune system activation. It can provoke allergic reactions and food intolerance, which increases the permeability of the intestinal wall and increases pain sensations.
  • Hormonal changes. The release of cortisol and adrenaline provokes contraction of the intestinal walls, increasing the pain, which is perceived by the brain as a worsening of the condition. At the same time, stress hormones are released again, which creates a “vicious circle” from which it is difficult to get out.

The Gut-Brain Axis

The human digestive system has its own nerve plexuses, which form the enteric nervous system, often called the “second brain”. The enteral nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the smooth muscles of internal organs that have contractile activity. Unlike the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts, which are directly regulated by the central nervous system, the enteral nervous system functions independently of the central nervous system.

The main tasks of the enteral nervous system are breaking down food, absorbing nutrients, and removing undigested particles require correct rhythmic muscle contractions that evenly move food down the gastrointestinal tract. And the enteric nervous system precisely regulates the complex motility of the intestines.

The enteric system is connected to the brain through the vagus nerve. Most of the fibers of the vagus nerve carry information from the gut to the brain. This means that everyday emotional state can affect the gut. When a stomach ache or a “bear’s disease” catches you suddenly, this may be an example of a physiological reaction to stress.

The Gut-Brain Connection is at the core of IBS development. The pain you experience with IBS, as well as other symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation, are caused by an improper interaction between the gut and the brain.

Vagus Nerve stimulation is an effective practice for relaxation, as well as improving the interaction between the gut and the brain. In the practice of yoga, we emphasize breathing practices, in particular, diaphragmatic breathing, which is the best exercise for stimulating the vagus nerve. Some asanas also have a direct effect on this body part, and deep belly breathing in asanas enhances the effect on the vagus nerve, causing a feeling of deep relaxation.

Meditation, Hypnotherapy and Art Therapy for IBS treatment

There are many studies on the beneficial effect of meditation on reducing stress. Nowadays meditation and relaxation practices are included in traditional protocols for anxiety disorders and depression treatment and are also widely used by specialists in IBS treatment programs.

Art therapy, like meditation, can reduce anxiety, help manage fears, anxious thoughts, and social discomfort caused by IBS symptoms.

Hypnotherapy, aimed at the interaction of the gut-brain connection, is currently the most studied psychological tool for IBS treatment. Unlike other tools, such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and other types of psychotherapy, where the main work is directed at consciousness, hypnotherapy is directed at working with the subconscious. Hypnotherapy can help provide deep relaxation in many people, and in a state of deep relaxation, the mind becomes more open to the recommendations used in hypnotherapy. Using certain guidelines, the hypnotherapist can give the patient a posthypnotic suggestion that will allow the patient to go into a deeply relaxed state whenever a gastrointestinal attack occurs.

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