Meditation for IBS and IBD

Did You Know…that relaxation exercises like meditation may help alleviate the symptoms of bowel disorders?

The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders estimates that irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects up to 15% of the American population.  It turns out, relaxation techniques may help significantly.

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome? 

According to Cedars-Sinai, about 25% of Americans experience IBS symptoms.  Do you suffer from the symptoms of IBS or IBD (irritable bowel disorder, characterized by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract)?  Those symptoms include:

 Abdominal pain
 Cramps
 Constipation
 Diarrhea

If so, you know these bowel disorders can affect not just your gastrointestinal health, but also your entire quality of life.

There aren’t very viable treatment options for either IBS or IBD.  We do know that each of these disorders and their associated symptoms is triggered by stress and emotional/psychological trauma.  A new, small-scale study conducted by researchers from two Harvard-affiliated hospitals indicates that relaxation therapies such as meditation may help alleviate the symptoms of IBS and IBD brought on by stress and anxiety.

Meditate Your Way to Optimal Gut Health 

Researchers put 19 IBS patients and 29 IBD patients on a relaxation program made up of meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises.  Patients participated in a 1.5-hour group therapy session once a week.  They also practiced relaxation exercises at home for 15-20 minutes a day.  Researchers evaluated patients’ symptoms, stress levels, and pain at the start of the study, 4.5 weeks in, at the end of 9 weeks, and 3 weeks after the study’s completion.

 Patients’ ability to deal with pain increased, and patients reported fewer symptoms and higher quality of life. 

 Patients’ blood samples showed that the relaxation program altered the expression of genes involved in the        inflammation and stress response. 

 IN both IBS and IBD patients the inflammation gene NF-kB was suppressed.

     “In both IBS and IBD, the pathway controlled by a protein called NF-kB emerged as one of those most significantly affected by the relaxation response,” Dr. Towia Libermann, a senior researcher in the study and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston explained.

Specifically, 1000 genes changed in IBD patients and 119 genes changed in IBS patients.

Previous research has shown that relaxation therapies such as meditation can alter gene expression.  However, this study, published April 30, 2015 in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to show that meditation can alter gene expression specific to a disease.

More large-scale trials need to be conducted before mediation becomes a recognized treatment for IBD or IBS.  But if you or someone you love suffers from a bowel disorder, implementing a relaxation program may do wonders for improving quality of life.  Experts also recommend using hypnotherapy, guided imagery, and biofeedback therapy as a means of influencing the mind-body connection and healing the gut of bowel disorders such as IBD and IBS.

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