Is a faulty gut brain connection responsible for your Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms? If you’re suffering with IBS and feeling frustrated and confused about your IBS symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and stomach pain, then it’s time you got to know your brain-gut connection. Because once you understand more about the role of the mind gut in Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you’ll discover a whole new way to overcoming your IBS gut symptoms.

So let’s dive in!

(To explore more videos on IBS and digestive health, head on over to The Calm and Happy Gut YouTube channel)

What is your Gut Brain Connection?

So what is your brain gut connection? Also known as the brain gut axis, it describes the ongoing two-way communication between your brain and your digestive system.

Your brain links directly with your gut, sharing many nerve pathways and chemical transmitters. In fact scientists actually call your digestive system the brain in your gut, or your second brain. This is because of the estimated 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract.

This second brain, also called the enteric nervous system is in constant communication with the brain in your head (part of your central nervous system). The two send messages back and forth continuously.

We instinctively know that our brain connects to our gut. A simple example is to think back to when you last felt nervous, did you have butterflies in your stomach? Or do certain situations make you feel nauseous?

This happens because your gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness, and joy — all of these feelings can trigger symptoms and sensations in the gut.

And your brains effect on your stomach and intestines doesn’t stop there. In fact the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food even gets there.

And this connection goes both ways too, a troubled stomach can send signals back up to the brain.

What happens when the gut brain connection stops working as it should?

When the two-way communication works perfectly, there’s no problem. But when your brain and your gut stop talking to each other as they should, IBS symptoms develop.

This is why we call gastrointestinal disorders like IBS, Reflux Hypersensitivity, and Functional Dyspepsia ‘Disorders of the Gut-Brain Interaction’.

We call them disorders of the gut-brain interaction because the most critical abnormality is believed to be impaired communication between the gut and the brain via the nervous system in both directions.

When this happens, and faulty communication arises it can cause two main issues which are typical of IBS:

  • Firstly, Visceral Hypersensitivity. This means that your bowel can become overly sensitive to normal sensations such as gas or fullness. Your bowel misinterprets these sensations as pain. This happens because the nerves inside of your gut have become hyper alert and hypersensitive. They signal pain and discomfort when they might not need to. Your brain can also amplify these signals, leading to increased perceived levels of pain.
  • The second issue is called Altered Bowel Motility. This refers to the speed at which food moves down through your bowel. When this becomes irregular it can result in constipation, diarrhoea, or a mixture of the two.

I hope at this point that your IBS symptoms are starting to feel less like a mystery. And to help demystify IBS even further, we’re going on a quick journey inside of your digestive system. And don’t worry I will keep this simple.

The process of digestion: What happens when your gut and brain miscommunicate?

When you eat, digested food travels from your mouth, down your esophagus, into your stomach, through your intestines, and out your rectum. IBS largely affects your large intestine.

And your large intestine is part of something called your colon and measures an incredible 5 ft in length. In digestion, its main job is to change the liquid waste products which travel into it into stools, or poo.

To do this it needs to do two things. Firstly it needs to absorb some of the water – which is does through its lining. It also needs to push the partially digested food along the 5ft path to your rectum. In a normal functioning bowel, this triggers the reflex to go to the toilet.

Now the muscles found in the walls of your large intestines are what pushes this partially digested food along, by alternating waves of contractions followed by relaxation.

These strong waves of movement propel the soon to be stool long distances about 2 or 3 times per day. This process is called peristalsis which you might remember from school biology lessons!

Now this next part is really important. In someone who does not have IBS, the muscular movements in their large intestine and colon are consistent and coordinated. Digestion happens smoothly, without issue 99.9% of the time. Their brain and gut are communicating as they should.

However In YOUR large intestine and colon, this unfortunately is NOT happening. In YOUR gut, these muscular movements are either happening too slowly or they are happening far too quickly. This is what is called altered bowel motility.

If this movement is happening too fast, you’ll likely experience painful cramping and because the partially digested food passes way through too quickly, not enough water is going to be absorbed and diarrhoea will be the result. This increase in speed may also trigger a very strong reflex or urgent need to go to the toilet.

On the other side, if the movements slow down too much, this is when constipation occurs, where too much water is absorbed and a hard, lumpy stool is the result, which can also be difficult and painful to pass.

So the major take away is that your IBS symptoms of diarrhoea and constipation are being caused by irregular muscle contractions. And this all comes back to faulty messages being sent between your brain and gut.

These inconsistent and uncoordinated muscle contractions are ALSO the reasons why you may experience painful spasms. These are the result of rapid muscle contractions in your colon.

This type of movement can also result in waste and air becoming trapped which can be extremely uncomfortable and painful, and can cause excessive bloating and/or strange noises in your tummy.

How does knowing about a faulty gut brain connection help you?

This new understanding of the connection between you brain and your gut and the involvement of your nervous system in IBS, helps to explain the effectiveness of mind-gut therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medical hypnotherapy such as gut directed hypnotherapy.

Because what we know is that our two brains talk to each other – the brain in your gut talks to  the brain in your head. And so therapies that help one can help the other, and psychological approaches such as CBT and hypnosis can help to improve and strengthen the miscommunication which is triggering your IBS symptoms.

Here’s how I can help you with your IBS:

1. The Calm Gut Program

Work with me 1:1 online and finally take back control of your IBS using gut directed hypnotherapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Working together over 6 sessions I’ll help you restore regular gut function, relieve pain and discomfort, and you enjoy life again. With a personalised, supportive and caring approach, The Calm Gut Program is evidence based and backed by science. Learn more here.

2. The Calm Gut App

Get instant access to an evidence-based audio ‘toolkit’ to help reduce the symptoms of IBS. Fix the miscommunication between your brain and your gut. Access gut directed hypnotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), mindfulness techniques & breathing exercises at your fingertips. Try 7 days for FREE here.

3. Download Your Free Ultimate Guide to IBS Guide

Discover what’s really causing your IBS flare ups, and how to calm your gut naturally. (Chances are that not even your doctor has told you about these). Get your FREE copy here.

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A 'toolkit in your pocket' for long-term IBS relief

An evidence-based audio ‘toolkit’ to help reduce the symptoms of IBS and ‘fix’ the miscommunication between your brain and your gut. Access gut directed hypnotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), mindfulness techniques & breathing exercises at your fingertips.

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Download the calm gut app