IBS is a complex and often misunderstood condition that can be difficult to manage. Symptoms can include cramping, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and gas. Though the exact causes of IBS are not yet known, recent research has shed light on the brain gut connection and its involvement in IBS.
What is the brain gut connection?
Many people are familiar with the idea of the mind-body connection, but they may not be as familiar with the gut-brain connection. The gut-brain connection is the scientific name for the communication between your brain and the gastrointestinal tract. This communication is made possible by several neurotransmitters and the vagus nerve, which runs from the brainstem to the digestive tract. Your gut and the brain are constantly sending signals back and forth through this nerve, which helps to regulate important functions like digestion and mood.
In fact, this communication path is a two-way super highway allowing your brain to talk to your gut, and your gut to talk to your brain. For example, the brain sends signals to the digestive system to help it function correctly, and the digestive system in turn sends signals back to the brain so that the brain can control things like appetite, mood, and sleep. In an ideal world, this communication system works to maintain your body’s state of steady functioning known as homeostasis.
However, there is a growing body of research that suggests that disruptions in this gut-brain communication can contribute to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is why IBS is called a Disorder of the Gut Brain Interaction (DGBI).
IBS and the brain gut connection
Unfortunately, when the gut-brain communication becomes disrupted, it can result in incorrect messages being sent between the two. And it’s this faulty communication that can affect the ability for your gut to function properly. This results in IBS symptoms including stomach pain and irregular bowel habits.
Research shows that when your brain and gut are miscommunicating, it can cause the following issues to develop:
- Visceral Hypersensitivity. Your bowel can become overly sensitive to normal sensations such as gas or fullness and misinterprets stimuli inside of your bowel as pain. This happens because the nerves inside of your gut have become hyper alert, signalling pain and discomfort when they might not need to. Your brain can also amplify these signals, leading to increased perceived levels of pain.
- Altered Bowel Motility. The motility (the movement of food through your bowel) can become irregular resulting in constipation, diarrhoea, or a mixture of the two. This irregular movement can also lead to an increase in pressure inside of your GI tract causing further pain. Motility issues and uncoordinated and uncontrolled movement inside of the bowel are also the reason behind painful gut spasms.
Motility issues and uncoordinated and uncontrolled movement inside of the bowel are also a reason behind painful gut spasms.
Now whilst science doesn’t know exactly what causes these ”faults” to develop, studies have shown that approximately 60% of IBS sufferers report the first onset of symptoms during times of stress.
How do stress and anxiety contribute to IBS?
Your gut and brain are connected via your nervous system. Specifically, your central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord) and your enteric nervous system (the nerves that run along your gastrointestinal tract).
And it’s this gut-brain connection that plays such a vital role in both your IBS symptoms and overall health.
This link between your brain and gut also helps to explain why stressful situations cause digestive symptoms such as nausea and abdominal pain. Just think back to the last time you felt stressed or anxious, and the impact on your stomach. Did your stomach start to make noises? Did you have to use the bathroom numerous times?
This is because when you feel stressed or anxious, your central nervous system triggers your fight-or-flight response (also known as your stress response). This in turn affects how your digestive system functions and can either slow down or stop digestion altogether. It does this to reserve energy for warding off the perceived or real danger.
This also explains why worrying about uncomfortable or embarrassing gut symptoms can trigger further painful IBS symptoms. In fact, for many IBS sufferers, they can become trapped in a vicious cycle of IBS and anxiety.
IBS is not in your head, but your brain plays a big role
Now this is not to say that IBS is ‘’all in your head’’. But the fact is, that your gut and your brain are inextricably linked, and what affects one will affect the other.
Is it possible to ”fix” the miscommunication between the brain and gut?
Yes. Knowing that your gut and brain ‘’talk’’ to each other helps to explain why mind-gut therapies such as gut directed hypnotherapy and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) are so effective at reducing IBS symptoms.
They are so effective because they work in two specific ways:
- They address the factors maintaining your IBS symptoms, particularly the ways in which you think and feel about your gut issues, and the changes in behaviour that you have made to manage your IBS. All these things can aggravate your symptoms.
- They work on the level of your nervous system by changing the nerve communications that run between your gut and your brain. This means that they can positively influence the speed at which food moves through your intestines, the hypersensitivity of the nerves which are currently reacting to pain and discomfort and help to normalise how your brain processes pain.
In fact, it’s been almost 40 years since gut directed hypnotherapy was successfully first used in the treatment of IBS and improving the gut and brain connection. Since then, there have been more than 30 published IBS studies highlighting its many benefits in significantly improving symptoms and quality of life.
On average, clinical research studies have shown that this approach can reduce symptoms of IBS by as much as 70-80%. And clients working with me inside of The Calm Gut IBS Hypnotherapy Program frequently experience life changing results.
How do I ‘’fix’’ my brain-gut connection?
Both Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and gut directed hypnotherapy have been shown to be effective treatments for reducing the symptoms of IBS. These approaches are also safe and do not involve stressful and confusing diets or being dependent on medication.
I’m here to help you
If you’re tired of struggling with your IBS symptoms alone and you don’t know where to turn next, then my gut directed hypnotherapy program – The Calm Gut Program may just be the answer.
If you’d like to explore whether hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy for IBS and my Calm Gut Program is the right approach for you, then book a free 30 minute consultation. With almost 40 years of solid evidence behind it, gut directed hypnotherapy and CBT have been shown to reduce IBS symptoms in more than 70-80% of people. In this free 30 minute call, we will discuss:
- Your current IBS symptoms, health history and challenges you’re experiencing
- What you’ve already tried to get relief from IBS and why you’re still stuck
- How hypnosis for IBS (also known as gut directed hypnotherapy) works and determine a program of therapy going forward.
If you have any questions before booking this call, you can contact me here.