Have you heard about IBS? “Hot girls have IBS/stomach problems” has been a trend over TikTok and other social media platforms. IBS affect one in twenty people in the UK, and it seems to affect women twice as often as men. When you hear “IBS”, you might imagine having a gassy tummy and diarrhoea. However, this stomach issue is not all about that.
In fact, it has a deep connection with our mental well-being. Let’s look into IBS together.
What is IBS?
IBS is an acronym for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, known for constant diarrhoea, bloating, gas, constipation and abdominal pain. Although we know how to treat IBS, the actual cause of IBS is unknown.
Possible causes are…
- Muscle contractions in the intestine.
- Issues with the nerves in your digestive system.
- Severe infection caused by diarrhoea.
- Childhood stress.
- Changes in gut microbes.
- Food: People can have worse symptoms when they eat certain foods such as wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks.
- Stress: People with increased stress can experience worse or more frequent symptoms.
The connection between stress and IBS
People with IBS often have a condition called “visceral hypersensitivity”, in which the nerves around the gut are overly sensitive to stimuli. When people with visceral hypersensitivity are stressed and anxious, the nerves send false signals to the brain, leading to the cause of diarrhoea, constipation and bloating.
“The brain is very powerful at causing physical symptoms. So when people get anxious or stressed, they can get sweaty palms, they can feel their heart racing. And that’s true as well for the gut and the brain. A good example of it is when people get really nervous before an exam or before a date — they can get nervous diarrhoea. That’s just a common example of the gut-brain axis in an acute episode.”
“And when you’re stressed and your sympathetic pathway is activated, you are getting ready to fight. So you’re moving all the blood away from the gut and you’re activating your muscles and heart and getting everything ready to fight. And that’s why when people are stressed, they often have poor digestion, whether that’s diarrhoea, constipation, bloating or pain.”
It is known that IBS is more common in people with post-traumatic stress disorder, stress, anxiety and depression. That's when the happiness hormone serotonin plays a prominent role as it’s associated with gut functioning.
Serotonin’s impact on our gut is…
- How fast food moves through the digestive system.
- How sensitive your intestines are to pain and fullness.
The symptoms of IBS often depend on serotonin levels. If you have lower serotonin levels, you are likely to experience constipation. In comparison, higher serotonin levels can cause diarrhoea, interrupt sleep, and are associated with anxiety disorder.
How do we maintain serotonin levels?
Although serotonin won’t treat IBS completely, it can ease the symptoms by maintaining its level. An easy way to start would be to get more sunlight and exercise also controlling stress is also essential.
We know that chronic stress can decrease the levels of serotonin. Maintaining the serotonin levels not only benefits our mental health but also our overall health.
Ways to reduce stress levels are…
- Practice yoga/meditation
- Connect with nature
- Create a relaxing bath routine at home
Does taking a hot bath ease IBS symptoms?
Juggling our busy lives and personal space can take time to maintain. That’s why creating a safe environment at home is crucial to our mental health. Significantly, the night routine before bed is when you finally log off from the storm of your day. You would want to have a quiet and comfortable space to unwind.
Taking a long hot bath has many benefits to our health, physically and mentally, but the most known factor is the ultimate relaxation it can give to our body and mind.
“Direct heat is a tremendously effective muscle relaxant, and can be wonderfully beneficial for most IBS symptoms. When your gastrocolic reflex has triggered colon spasms, and pain, diarrhea, or constipation have resulted, direct, intense lower abdominal heat can relax the colon and offer quick relief.” - Heat Therapy, Help For IBS
Additionally, the bathing ritual calms the nervous system, improves overall mood and eases anxiety, stress, and depression.
Do you have a stomach issue? You may have IBS symptoms. Slow your lifestyle, mind your mental health and ultimately get diagnosed at your local GP to get treated.