What is IBS?
IBS is a digestive disorder affecting both the large and small intestines. IBS is characterized by cramping, abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation. The number one trigger for flare-ups is stress. One out of five people who suffer from IBS will deal with stress and anxiety.
How does stress trigger IBS?
Triggers vary between people; some common triggers include certain foods such as milk products or beans and lifestyle factors such as caffeine and alcohol. Stress can be one of the biggest triggers for some sufferers. Stressful events in your life can cause you to feel anxious, which is your body’s natural response to stress.
People with IBS are more prone to anxiety than those with IBS-C or IBS-M. This link between IBS and Anxiety has been documented by research: “Studies show a high prevalence of anxiety disorders among IBD patients, especially those who have Crohn’s disease” ( Craighead, 2011). Research also shows that people with anxiety tend to exhibit specific symptoms more than others.
It’s no secret that stress can cause flare-ups, but what kind of impact does anxiety have on IBS? ” A common myth about is that it is an intestinal disorder with physical causes and manifestations.” Stress and anxiety do not show themselves the same way in every person with IBS: some sufferers will feel very anxious before having a bowel movement. Others will be constipated because their body relaxes the muscles in their intestines, restricting them from moving food through your digestive tract.
What is the gut-brain link?
The gut-brain link is connected because the gut and your brain are bound by the immune system, the enteric nervous system (ENS), neurons, neurotransmitters, and hormones. The ENS contains 100 million neurons connected to your central nervous system. This network of ENS neurons functions similarly to a second brain that communicates back and forth with the central nervous system working at all times, even while you sleep.
Your gut is filled with bacteria called enteric flora: “95% of serotonin is produced in enterochromaffin cells. These are the same cells which also secrete histamine”. This means that sufferers are deficient in serotonin, which can be linked to anxiety disorders because serotonin plays a role in your mood functions.
Harmful bacteria in your IBS intestines cause symptoms. There are two kinds of harmful bacteria, pathogenic and non-pathogenic. Pathogenic bacteria will destroy tissue, while non-pathogenic bacteria will release toxins.
This gut-brain link plays a role in discussing treatment options below for stress and anxiety. Symptoms can increase during a flare-up or IBS attack: IBS attacks are triggered by stress and anxiety, which affects your intestines and worsens symptoms. It is a chronic disorder – one that will last for the rest of your life – so making sure you have the tools to manage your stress and anxiety levels is critical.
IBS Treatment Options for Stress/Anxiety
- Fiber Supplements – Sufferers tend to have low fiber diets, contributing to IBD flares because of IBS-D. Fiber supplements help control IBD flare-ups by slowing down stool transit time. Soluble fiber “is partly fermented in the colon into short-chain fatty acids, including acetic acid, propionic acid, and butyric acid.” This helps IBD sufferers to absorb calcium better.
- Anti Diarrheal Medications – pain medications are over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications like Imodium A-D or Pepto Diarrhea Control. These can be used sparingly because long-term use of these medications can worsen your symptoms. Pain medications can also make IBD sufferers constipated.
- Relaxation Techniques – Sufferers should practice relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing to get through stressful situations without having a flare-up. Many resources online can help you learn what relaxation techniques work for you.
- Get Support – Meeting with a local support group or IBD support group online for IBD or IBS can help when it comes to stress management. These people understand how difficult it is to live with these chronic illnesses because they live with them themselves. Sometimes it’s just nice having someone who will listen and relate even if they live far away from you
- Supplements – Probiotics are good bacteria supplements meant to help balance your gut microbiome by assisting harmful bacteria to “good.” These supplements are over the counter, with brands like Align, VSL#3, or MegaSporeBiotic. Magnesium is a supplement that helps with relaxation by letting muscles relax, which relieves IBS pain. Magnesium supplements are available over the counter at any pharmacy but can also be found in foods like spinach or brown rice.
- Anti Anxiety Medications – Anxiety medications are prescription strength anti-anxiety medications to help calm your nerves when stressed out about an upcoming event that might cause you to have an attack. These meds do come with side effects, so make sure you talk to your doctor first before taking any new medication!
- CBD Oil – If your flares up, often try taking CBD oil about an hour before you expect your IBS attack to start and see if it helps decrease the severity of your IBS symptoms.