IBS remains a hot topic in the world of scientific research. Although we are yet to discover the exact cause of IBS, we are rapidly learning more about what triggers symptoms. In particular, more information is coming to light on the important relationship between mood and IBS.
Influence of the brain and gut
Whilst our body systems each have their own separate functions, they are very good at working together. This is especially true for the brain and gut, as the nervous system partly controls the gut. For example – when our stomach is empty, there are signals sent between the brain and gut to let us know we are hungry and need food. Or when there is too much alcohol in our gut, it sends a signal to a part of the brain which triggers vomiting.
Since the brain controls our mood and the gut is the primary site of IBS symptoms, it makes sense that mood and IBS influence each other.
How IBS impacts mood
IBS can take a huge toll on your quality of life. Symptoms not only cause pain and discomfort, but also often impacts work life and social life. You might miss social events because your symptomatic and don’t want to spend the night feeling bloated and windy. Or maybe you feel less productive at work due to stomach cramps and frequent toilet trips. These are just a couple of scenarios which make it easy to understand how IBS can impact mood.
If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. The nervous system responds to stress, and partly controls the gut. As a result, IBS suffers may be more sensitive to certain foods, stress and mood disorders. Research shows psychological disorders, such as anxiety and depression, affect 50-94% of IBS patients. This is largely due to the emotional distress and gut distress IBS can cause.
How mood impacts IBS
Of those who experience both IBS and a mood disorder, a larger proportion are diagnosed with the mood disorder before the IBS diagnosis. So mood may have a strong influence on both developing and aggravating IBS symptoms. Stress has shown to be a major contributor to IBS development. You may have noticed your own symptoms worsen in times of stress or emotional hardship. This isn’t exclusive to IBS either…have you ever felt so nervous you felt sick in the stomach? This is again due to the influence of the brain on the gut and stress response.
What this suggests for IBS management
As there seems to be a strong relationship between mood and IBS, it appears strategies targeting mental-wellbeing are promising for improving IBS management. Studies show psychological therapies effectively improve mental health, daily functioning, and physical (gut) symptoms of IBS sufferers. Everyone feels the effects of stress differently, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all management strategy.
Ways to manage your mental wellbeing
Regardless of whether you have a diagnosed psychological disorder such as anxiety or depression, just get a bit stressed at times, or are happy as Larry…it is important to look after your mental health. It is important to find an enjoyable way to manage your emotional wellbeing. This differs for everyone, but here are a few which have shown to be effective for some individuals with IBS:
- Relaxation therapies – such as yoga or meditation
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (a type of therapy that aims to help identify unhelpful thoughts and develop positive strategies to improve an individual’s quality of life).
- Group therapy/community support groups
By Amanda Gaukroger
Laird KT, Tanner-Smith EE, Russell AC, Hollon SD, Walker LS. Comparative efficacy of psychological therapies for improving mental health and daily functioning in irritable bowel syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review. 2017 Feb 28;51:142-52.
Jones MP, Tack J, Van Oudenhove L, Walker MM, Holtmann G, Koloski NA, Talley NJ. Mood and Anxiety Disorders Precede Development of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders in Patients but not in the Population. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2017 Jan 10.
Zernicke KA, Campbell TS, Blustein PK, Fung TS, Johnson JA, Bacon SL, Carlson LE. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms: a randomized wait-list controlled trial. International journal of behavioral medicine. 2013 Sep 1;20(3):385-96.