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Can Stress Trigger Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

In today's fast-paced world stress is inevitable. From work pressures to personal challenges, stress has a significant impact on nearly every aspect of our health. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. IBS is an umbrella term and the cause of these symptoms varies from individual to individual.
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STRESS! A Common Root Cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

In todays fast-paced world stress is inevitable. From work pressures to personal challenges, stress has a significant impact on nearly every aspect of our health. Let’s dive into stress a little more before discussing how it impacts digestion.

As humans we have evolved to be hyperaware of danger, it’s how our ancestors stayed safe from predators. Our brains are hard-wired to protect us. We have 2 branches of our nervous system:

  1. The parasympathetic (rest and digest)
  2. The sympathetic (fight or flight).

In our modern world, our body responds as if a bear is chasing us when we open a stressful email or are behind on a work deadline. When we are in “fight or flight” our body releases cortisol and adrenaline, it shunts blood away from our digestive tract to our muscles and heart, and prepares to run from danger.

What is IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. IBS is an umbrella term and the cause of these symptoms varies from individual to individual. Today we are going to focus on stress but check out this blog post to learn more: Gut Health- Understanding the Microbiome and Optimizing Digestion – Vida Integrated Health (thinkvida.com)

Stress plays a key role in triggering and exacerbating the symptoms of this condition for many people. Stress can increase visceral hypersensitivity and alter gut motility resulting in pain, cramping, and bloating. Impaired gut motility not only can contribute to constipation, but it can predispose someone to the development of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO is one of the most common causes of IBS and is characterized by bloating soon after eating and can present with diarrhea or constipation. Stress impairs our ability to secrete stomach acid and digestive enzymes resulting in poorly digested food. Through the brain-gut connection, our microbiome changes in response to stress which can lead to dysbiosis resulting in inflammation that contributes to a vast array of health conditions.

Learning about all the ways stress can negatively impact our digestion can be well, stressful… so here are some strategies that can help manage stress and its effects on digestion:

Strategies to Help Manage Stress

Mind-Body: Implementing mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, gratitude journaling, acupuncture, and yoga are some of the ways one can reduce stress levels and improve gut function. Changing how we perceive day-to-day stressors can also have a significant impact on our health.

Dietary Modifications: An elimination diet is sometimes needed to identify foods contributing to IBS symptoms. This may include removing common triggers like gluten, dairy, and sugar or expanding to include removal of high FODMAP foods or high histamine foods. This varies between individuals and is not always meant to be long-term. Ensuring a well-balanced diet rich in healthy fats, protein, fiber, fruits, and vegetables is critical for optimal gut health.

Supplements: Digestive enzymes, antimicrobial, carminative, and demulcent herbs, probiotics, prebiotics, etc. may be considered based on the individual. Consult your Functional Medicine Doctor to find out what will work best for you.

Lifestyle Changes: Regular exercise, adequate sleep, community, healthy relationships, purpose, and connection are foundational for a healthy mind and body.

Professional Support: Working with a healthcare provider or a Functional Medicine practitioner can provide personalized guidance and support in addressing stress-related factors contributing to IBS.

Understanding the intricate relationship between stress and IBS is key to developing effective strategies for management and treatment. Remember, each individual’s experience with IBS and stress is unique, and it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your lifestyle or treatment plan.

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