Irritable Bowel Syndrome is basically a diagnosis of exclusion – unless anything else comes up in any testing a diagnosis of IBS is usually made. The most common aggravating factor for IBS is stress. Some people carry stress in their neck and shoulders, their jaw, or by suffering headaches. People with IBS carry their stress in their digestive system. Stress and emotional tension causes them to ‘hold on’ whereby they experience constipation and difficulty moving their bowels. Stress can also be experienced with morning anxiety and stressfully releasing one’s digestive system (diarrhoea) or anxiety induced rushing to the toilet. As such, the most important step is to develop good stress relieving strategies. Meditation, yoga, exercise and music are all helpful.
The link between stress and IBS cannot be refuted. Nerve fibres that control the automatic functioning of the intestinal muscles closely connect the brain and the intestine, and many people may experience nausea or diarrhoea when nervous or anxious. While we may not be able to control the effect stress has on our intestines, reducing the sources of stress in our lives may alleviate the symptoms of IBS.
One of the most important mood neurotransmitters (chemicals) is serotonin and a large percentage is actually produced in your digestive system. The most effective way of raising the serotonin level is with vigorous exercise. Studies have shown that serotonin levels are raised with increased activity and the production of serotonin is increased for some days after the activity. This is the safest way of increasing the serotonin level and there are numerous benefits to be gained by regular exercise. Anxiety reduction is usually a marked response for an IBS patient with concurrent improvement in digestive symptoms.
First and foremost, develop healthy eating habits. Sit down to eat your meal, don’t eat while working driving or performing other activities. Our ability to digest a meal effectively requires a calm state of being. Herbal Medicines such as Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Valerian, Cramp Bark and Peppermint are all beneficial both for symptomatic support and relaxation. Nutrients such as B vitamins and Magnesium are also supportive to alleviate the stressful response and reduce cramping.