Updated: Apr 16
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects the digestive system. Around 10-20% of the general population are living with IBS. Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea or a mixture of diarrhoea and constipation.
But did you know that those with IBS are more likely to have either depression or anxiety compared to those without IBS? In fact, those living with IBS-C were more likely to experience these symptoms relating to mental health.
We now know that this is not a coincidence, but that mental health and IBS are connected through the gut-brain axis. Here is where our brain and our gut can communicate with each other using neurotransmitters via the enteric nervous system. Examples of neurotransmitters include serotonin, which has many roles, including mood. Where stress influences gut symptoms, and gut symptoms influence stress.
Evidence suggests that those with IBS reported more severe psychological distress, also experienced more severe IBS symptoms. Further supporting the role of the gut-brain axis in mediating IBS symptoms.
In addition to the symptoms themselves, those with IBS are more likely to experience fatigue, lack of concentration, changes in their sexual relationships, fear of going out and travelling. All of which can significantly impact quality of life.
Approximately 3 out of 4 people who follow a low FODMAP diet will experience symptoms controlled IBS symptoms, which can help to improve mental health. However, combining the low FODMAP diet with gut-directed therapy may lead to greater psychological improvements.
Gut-directed hypnotherapy can be as effective as the low FODMAP diet for symptom improvement. In the event that the low FODMAP diet does not lead to symptom improvement, gut-directed hypnotherapy or other lifestyle interventions (meditation, yoga etc) may be appropriate.
For those with IBS, it is important that to assess your current stress levels and management. If stress levels are high, then it may be a sign that more can be done with stress management that might be more effective.
Stress management can include (but not limited to) talking to a loved one, a healthcare professional or talking to a therapist. Exercise releases endorphins which can act as a natural pain killer; so try to incorporate some daily movement as this may help relieve IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain and constipation. This may also help to lift a bad mood. Meditation and yoga are also often used to help with stress management in IBS.
It might be worth speaking to a gastroenterologist who can investigate further,o or a dietitian who can investigate other dietary tiggers. Either can recommend a qualified hypnotherapist or psychologist.
Get in touch if you are wanting to seek advice for your IBS symptoms. You're not alone.