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How IBS, Anxiety and Depression Are Linked and What You Can Do To Manage It

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder affecting approximately 1 in 5 Australians. IBS is a chronic condition with symptoms such as bloating, gastrointestinal discomforts, erratic bowel movements, chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation.

So what do Anxiety and Depression have to do with IBS?

Anxiety and Depression may be mental health issues, but they have a very real effect on your body chemistry. The stress from IBS changes your hormone production, alters your immune system, and in some cases upsets your digestive tract. A significant amount of clinical research data now suggests the importance of the brain-gut interaction in IBS and has found that there are a high number of psychological disorders in people with IBS.

Of those who do suffer from IBS, 70-90% have psychological disorders, including panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, post traumatic stress and major depression. The most common psychological disorder associated with IBS is anxiety, followed by depression. However, it is not always clear whether the anxiety or depression causes IBS or results from the IBS symptoms.

Some people are so worried that their IBS symptoms will flare up, that they avoid going to work, school, or social functions. This fear may make them withdraw from social life. They may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. They may feel restless or irritable. All these are also symptoms of depression.

Or, the feeling of despair caused by depression and anxiety may influence the way people cope with IBS. They may feel too tired and can’t be bothered changing their diet and exercising to ease IBS symptoms as well as depression and anxiety.

While there is no cure as such for IBS, there are a number of things you can do to reduce IBS symptoms which also assist in managing anxiety and depression.

Anti-depressants and psychotherapy can definately help but there are also some things you can do to make life easier for you to cope with.

  • Some people find that yoga and meditation help them cope with life better as it allows time to breathe, get centred and focus on positive thoughts whilst exercising.

  • Other forms of exercise such as walking, dance classes, outdoor exercise and home resistance weight training are proven to be the most effective anti depressants also reducing anxiety and IBS symptoms. Aim for 20-30 minutes of exercise a day.

  • Getting enough sleep is vital for everyone to cope emotionally and physically with what life throws at you, but even more so in the case of managing anxiety, depression and IBS, so aim for 8 hours minimum a night.

  • A healthy diet can really make such a difference to mood and IBS. It’s a good idea to see a dietician to discuss your symptoms as they understand the link between digestive and mental health. They may also suggest a Low FODMAP Diet – This stands for the unpronounceable “fructo-oligo-di-mono-saccharides,” which are basically foods which contain gas producing carbohydrates. All the well-known gassy culprits are there — beans, broccoli and onions — along with wheat and dairy products. Speak to a dietician or nutritionist before starting this diet so that you don’t miss out on essential nutrients. There is however great evidence to suggest a low FODMAP diet works to reduce symptoms of IBS.

  • You can take daily probiotics. There is some evidence to support the use of probiotics to manage depression and IBS. Take in the morning with yoghurt for added benefit.

  • Eat Regularly, Eat Smaller Meals and Eat Slowly – Eat regular meals every 2-3 hours and chew slowly so you don’t add gas to your digestive tract and stomach and try to eat smaller portions so it’s easier on your digestion.

  • Drink Peppermint Tea which has been proven to reduce sensations of bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort. It may also help food travel through your digestive tract more easily.

  • Add Ginger to your meal as it is believed to reduce stomach cramps and nausea. Ginger comes in pill form if you don’t like the taste of ginger.

If you believe you are suffering from IBS, it is important to consult a doctor. Do not self diagnose as there are other illnesses with similar symptoms. Your GP will normally refer you to a Dietician, Nutritionist and/or Gastroenterologist.

Hope this helps


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