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Understanding IBS and Your Second Brain

Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach right before giving an important presentation? That’s because of the gut-brain connection.


The gut is often referred to as the second brain and for a very good reason! For those of us with troubling digestive problems such as IBS, you may notice your gut plays up during times of high stress. Likewise, digestive issues can wreak havoc on our mental health and mood too. Let’s dive into the gut-brain connection and see how it relates to IBS. 

What is the Gut-Brain Connection?

The gut-brain connection refers to the bidirectional communication between the gastrointestinal tract (the gut) and the central nervous system (the brain). Imagine your gut as a second brain. It has its own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system, which communicates with your main brain through a network of signals. This means your gut can do its job (like digesting food) without you having to think about it. But it also sends signals to your brain that can affect how you feel.

The connection between IBS and the gut-brain connection: 

Research suggests that people with IBS have more sensitive guts. The fancy term used to describe this is “visceral gastrointestinal hypersensitivity”. This means, people with IBS feel a heightened level of pain and distress associated with bloating and other gut symptoms, compared to people without IBS. Studies have shown this by investigating rectal sensitivity in individuals with IBS. These studies have found that individuals with IBS experience heightened sensitivity to rectal balloon distention compared to healthy controls, suggesting an underlying mechanism of visceral hypersensitivity in IBS (1, 2, 3). 

We also know that people who suffer from mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety, are more likely to suffer from IBS (4). Stress and emotions can trigger gut reactions, leading to flare-ups of abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhoea. 

Practical Strategies for Managing IBS Through the Gut-Brain Connection

Understanding the gut-brain connection can empower you to take control of your IBS symptoms. Here are some practical strategies to consider:

  • Stress Management: Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to calm the nervous system and reduce gut sensitivity.
  • Dietary Modifications: A low FODMAP diet may help to alleviate IBS symptoms and identify your food triggers. We recommend always doing the low FODMAP diet under the guidance of a dietitian
  • Gut-Healthy Foods: Incorporate fiber-rich foods, probiotics, and prebiotics into your diet to support a healthy gut microbiome.
  • Mind-Body Therapies: Explore therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or gut-directed hypnotherapy (Nerva), which have been shown to reduce IBS symptoms by addressing the gut-brain connection.
  • Medications: Talk to your healthcare provider about medications that target IBS symptoms, such as antispasmodics, antidepressants, or medications that modulate serotonin levels in the gut.

Living with IBS can be challenging, but by understanding the complex connection between your gut and brain, you can take steps to manage your IBS and improve your overall health and wellbeing. With a holistic approach that addresses both physical and emotional factors, you can work to keep your gut happy and your brain calm.

Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, if you need support to manage your IBS symptoms you can contact one of our dietitians HERE for a FREE 15 minute discovery call today. 

Published: 22nd April 2024

Author: Bianca Berton-Scarlet, Monash FODMAP trained Dietitian

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