Irritable bowel syndrome affects millions of Americans. It usually manifests around age 20, and for reasons unknown strikes more women than men. Symptoms include abdominal pain, cramping and bloating, diarrhea or constipation, and mucous in the stools. While only a physician can diagnose irritable bowel syndrome and decide whether or not another serious illness is present or not, once you’re diagnosed there’s little that medical science can do other than offer some guidelines as to what to eat or avoid to prevent the occurrence of painful or debilitating IBS symptoms. Stress is often a trigger for IBS flare ups.
Stress and Your Body
Everyone experiences stress from time to time. Whether it’s getting stuck in traffic, taking tests, worrying about your job or money, there are often small, daily life stressors that accumulate and pile on the stress debt father than we can deal with it. Major life stressors, such as illness, loss of a job, death of a loved one, marriage, divorce and children can also create high stress levels in our lives.
When we’re under stress, whether big or small, our bodies go into the fight or flight response. This is nature’s way or preparing us to fight the perceived stress or run away from it. And while this mechanism served our ancestors well when they did things like fight wild beasts, it’s not so good for us now when the wild beasts we’re fighting are six lanes of stuck traffic or a poor performance review from our boss.
During times when stress levels rise, our bodies do several things to prepare for the fight or flight response. Breathing increases and may become shallow. Hormones flood the system along with other chemicals preparing us to battle or run from a perceived stressor. And blood moves from the digestive system to other places, slowing digestion so that energy can be put towards battling the stress rather than digestion.
Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach or experienced a ‘nervous stomach’ before a stressful event, such as making a speech, acting in a play, or even on your wedding day? That’s perfectly normal and an example of how your body’s reacting to stress.
But in modern living, our stress levels rise without relief. Turn on the television first thing in the morning and what do you hear and see? Images of war, strife, tension. Stories about bad things. By the time you’ve grabbed your car keys and headed out the door to work, your body’s already starting to respond to stress. And it never ends.
Stress and Serotonin
Many people assume that the body’s reaction to stress is all in our heads, but it’s actually throughout the body – and especially in the gut. Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood and emotion, is manufactured not in the brain but in the colon. If your colon’s not healthy or if it’s bombarded by unremitting stress day in and day out, chances are good that your body’s serotonin levels are altered. And this can lead to depression and greater anxiety.
Which comes first – the stress response, low serotonin levels and IBS, or low serotonin and anxiety? No one knows. Doctors however are starting to prescribe antianxiety medications to patients with irritable bowel syndrome, and seeing improvements, which again underscores the connection between the brain, the gut and irritable bowel syndrome.
Natural Help: Diet, Colon Hydrotherapy and Stress Relief
But what can you do to help irritable bowel syndrome without taking medication? There’s a long list of holistic procedures you can try if you’re diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. These include:
- Changing gradually to a raw, living foods diet. This increases fiber intake, improves nutrition for most people, and provides the body with life-giving enzymes.
- Colon hydrotherapy. Colon hydrotherapy uses water to gently cleanse impacted matter from the colon. This can help your body naturally evacuate waste easily. It often improves symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea and painful abdominal cramps.
- Stress relief. Find ways to cope with daily stressful events. EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique is a method of dealing with stress that you can learn and practice on your own. Other methods to cope with stress include mindfulness, meditation, yoga and gentle exercise. Seek counseling from a professional if you’re dealing with extreme stress, anxiety disorder or depression.
With these tips, you may be able to manage or mitigate some of the stress in your life that may contribute to irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.