Cognitive Health

What’s the Link Between Mental Wellbeing and IBS?

Cognitive Health

What’s the Link Between Mental Wellbeing and IBS?

If you live with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it’s worth knowing your mental and digestive health are closely linked; when one is out of balance, the other can pay the price. IBS symptoms are often worse when you’re under stress, but evidence suggests your mental wellbeing is also influenced in part by your gut health. 

Here’s what you should know about the link between mental wellbeing and IBS and why supporting your mental health is an integral part of managing IBS symptoms. 

Are IBS Symptoms in Your Head? 

IBS doesn’t have just one cause, but one commonly reported trigger is stress. When you live with IBS, symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, gas, abdominal pain, and fatigue may become worse during periods of stress. Conversely, when IBS symptoms disrupt your life, you’re likely to feel psychological distress, which affects your quality of life. (Midenfjord) 

Researchers have found that people who live with IBS are three times more likely to experience ongoing anxiety and depression than those without IBS. (Zamani) So, which comes first, IBS or psychological distress? Regardless of which is the cause and which is the effect, there is a clear link between your digestive and mental health. 

The Gut-Brain Connection 

Your digestive tract and brain are connected through what’s known as the gut-brain axis. It’s essentially a two-way communication system between your brain and your enteric nervous system, which controls your digestive tract.  

This system helps manage muscle contractions that control the movement of food and waste in your digestive tract, as well as nerves that sense pain in your intestines. When you have a nervous stomach before a test or a big presentation, or a gut feeling about something, it’s your gut-brain axis at work. (Carabotti) 

Researchers suspect that your microbiome (the collection of friendly bacteria and other microbes in your gut) is a key player in your gut-brain axis, and the link between mental wellbeing and IBS symptoms. People with IBS, anxiety or  depression, or all three, have changes in their microbiome when compared to healthy people. (Madison, Carabotti, Simpson) Essentially, they develop less diversity in the mix of microbes, with fewer friendly bacteria, and that often allows harmful microbes to take over. 

A Role for Probiotics

Since the gut microbiome plays a role in your gut-brain axis, reshaping and enhancing it could benefit both your mental wellbeing and digestive health.(Krammer, Pusceddu, Liu) This is where probiotics can help because they contain the same types of live bacteria as a healthy microbiome. Several species of probiotics, supported by research into their benefits for digestive and mental health include:  (Krammer, Pusceddu, Liu)
  

  • Lactobacillus plantarum  
  • Lactobacillus reuteri  
  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus  
  • Lactobacillus paracasei  
  • Lactobacillus acidopilus  
  • Bifidobacterium lactis   
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum.    

Probiotic supplements that include a prebiotic might provide additional benefits. Prebiotics are the food for probiotics, so they help probiotics survive and thrive in your gut. These may be listed on a label as partially hydrolysed guar gum or FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides). Both are types of indigestible plant fibres. 

Other Ways to Support Mental Wellbeing 

Gut and brain health are both complex, and many factors influence how they work. Fortunately, many lifestyle strategies that support your mental wellbeing also benefit your gut. 

A healthy diet rich in plant foods is an excellent place to start . A diet that includes fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds not only provides vital nutrients for your brain but also supports a healthy microbiome. Unsurprisingly, psychological distress can lead to bad food choices, but research shows healthier, plant-rich diet patterns can promote a better mood and reduce the risk of depression. (Madison) 

Nutritional supplements may also help fill any gaps in your diet, and a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and essential omega-3 fats can work together to support mental wellbeing. (Fernandez-Rodriguez) Panax ginseng, an adaptogenic herb,(Lee) is another supplement worth considering in your diet. It’s been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine to help the body and brain adapt and become more resilient to stressors. Some research suggests ginseng can support a healthy stress response and help manage anxiety and depression. (Lee) 

Finally, mind-body therapies are an excellent way to support mental wellbeing and reduce anxiety and depression. These therapies have also been shown to reduce IBS symptoms. (Shah) Health care professionals advise incorporating any or all of these into your daily or weekly routine:  

  • Yoga  
  • Meditation  
  • Tai chi  
  • Prayer  
  • Music therapy  
  • Exercise 
  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy.   

The link between mental wellbeing and IBS is complicated, but your gut microbiome plays a crucial role. Make sure you’re doing all you can to keep your gut healthy and happy, and both your mental wellbeing and your digestive health will benefit. 

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Research is important, and we want to share it. Our articles distill the complex research and offer expert analysis on the microbiome, brain health and wellbeing.
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