Stress has been associated with the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for a long time now. Yet it is still unclear whether stress has a direct relationship with the onset of the symptoms of IBS. It is also quite logical that experiencing these symptoms would exacerbate stress which would cause a vicious cycle of ever-worsening symptoms.
The Science Behind Stress And IBS
Stress originates mostly in the nervous system. The nervous system is made up of the central part – the brain and spinal cord – and the peripheral part, which are all the other nerves running to the various muscles organs and most importantly the gastrointestinal system. There are essentially two antagonistic components of the peripheral nervous system which react to the stimuli of stress and later to reduce the effects. The sympathetic nervous system responds to the stimuli of stress and causes all of the effects that are meant to preserve the body from harm. Simply put, it’s a “fight and flight” component of the nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system resolves the symptoms of a stressful situation and is often activated when there are no stresses nearby. It is known as the “rest and digest” component of the nervous system. With the understanding of how the nervous system works it can be deduced that continuous exposure to stress will activate the sympathetic nervous system and reduce the rest and digest effects. For someone who suffers from IBS, this can cause constipation. It is also possible for the sympathetic nervous system to cause diarrhea because it stimulates the increased contraction of muscles such as those in the abdominal cavity. Both of these conditions can be classed as stress-induced dysbiosis.
Stress also increases the release of certain hormones from the adrenal glands. These hormones have a variety of effects especially if they are at consistently high levels. They affect the immune system which affects the very delicate environment of the gut, which contains normal bacteria which is important for proper digestion. These hormones may also have effects on the blood vessels near the intestine. Too little blood can cause dysfunction of the intestine and too much can cause water to leak into it.
So What Can Be Done About It?
The best advice for reducing the effects of stress on IBS would be to minimize its source. Experts suggest that people who suffer from stress and IBS should keep a journal to help them realize which stresses bring about the symptoms of the IBS. If possible these stresses can then be avoided. However, it is not always possible to avoid stress so steps should be taken to cope with it. Common ways that some sufferers deal with stress is joining an IBS support group, learning techniques such as meditation and getting sufficient sleep every night. If it is required a psychologist or psychiatrist can also be consulted. Lastly, it is important to address IBS from all aspects including a proper diet and exercise as well as complementary or natural treatments.