About 200,000 Canadians report having Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and it is becoming more prevalent.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is an umbrella term used for two separate conditions: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. They have slightly different characteristics, but very similar contributing factors, and thus treatment protocols.
I was recently asked to speak about IBD for the Canadian Society of Orthomolecular Medicine. I covered a wide variety of subjects including IBD risk factors, the cause of autoimmune disease, nutritional supplementation, healing diets, and the mind-body connection.
I pointed out that one of the biggest barriers to healing is failure to address the mind-body connection, a factor that is most often ignored.
The digestive tract is sometimes referred to as “the second brain.” Consider some of phrases we hear people say almost daily:
“There are butterflies in my stomach.”
“I have a gut feeling.”
“That made me sick to my stomach.”
We don’t pay much attention to the actual content of these phrases, but with further examination, we can appreciate that there is a connection between feelings and the anatomical location of the stomach.
What’s interesting is that there are more nerve endings in the gut than the whole spine. Also, ninety percent of all serotonin is made in the gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter we normally associate with the brain. In fact, one of the top selling classes of drugs is the antidepressant SSRIs which are based on the neurotransmitter.
What can we conclude from all of this? What the mind perceives has a direct influence on the functioning of the gut.
It is important for people with IBD to try and engage in activities that promote relaxation. The relaxation response promotes healing and has an anti-inflammatory effect. Relaxation is a function of the “rest-digest-stop-and-think” (parasympathetic) nervous system. Versus the “fight-flight-fright” (sympathetic) nervous system that promotes the inflammatory response.
What does the research show?
A recent study by Mawdsley and Rampton published in Gut showed a direct connection between stress and IBD; a connection that was denied for many years. Here are a few of their conclusions:
- Chronic stress, adverse life events, and depression can cause a relapse in patients with IBD
- Adrenal function, gut flora, mast cell activation, and the hypothalamus mediate the effect of stress on inflammation in IBD
- The symptoms of IBD may be exacerbated by the effects of stress on gut motility and fluid secretion
What can you do today?
As mentioned above, it is important to focus on stress-relieving activities to promote the relaxation response and consequently promote healing.
Everyone has specific stress-relieving activities that they enjoy. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Light Exercise
- Acupuncture, massage, bodywork
- Nature walks
Lipski, Elizabeth. Digestive Wellness: 4th Edition. McGraw-Hill 2011.
Mawdsley J E, Rampton D S. Psychological stress in IBD: new insights into pathogenic and therapeutic implications. Gut 2005;54:1481-1491