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IBS and the Gut-Brain axis

March 24,2020

The gut is often referred to as the second brain, and with good reason. Did you know that the gut actually has its own nervous system and what’s more, it’s just as large and complex as the head brain! It also is the only organ that functions independently of the head brain.


The head brain and the gut brain talk to each other constantly via the vagus nerve (or gut-brain axis). Just like taste, touch and eyesight collect information about the outside world around us, the gut collects information about the world inside our body and relays that info back to the head brain. It’s when the nerves in the gut are over sensitive and respond to normal digestion as worrisome, that the gut brain over communicates with the head brain. The response to this is that the head brain sends messages of pain or discomfort to get your attention and get you to change what your doing so that the gut can leave the head brain alone again. Resulting in  simultaneous feelings of negative emotion and feeling unwell. This is a big part of IBS type symptoms.



If you are experiencing stress in your life, and the head brain is using up resources, it will sometime ask the gut brain to help out and share some of its resources. Leaving fewer resources for the gut brain to manage a food intolerance or sensitivity. Resulting in a reduced threshold or exacerbating your symptoms.


If stress is a short term thing or a one off, a good night’s sleep can take care of it. But, when the stress lingers and  the head is continually borrowing from the gut, the gut will begin to suffer with decreased blood supply and eventually the gut bacteria (microbiome) will start to die off. It’s not surprising that a person who has a stressed head brain, will also have a stressed gut brain.


Managing IBS, is about so much more than diet! We know that diet helps, but its people who look at the bigger picture and incorporate stress management techniques, sleep and self-care that get much better results over all. In fact, did you know that research shows that activities like gut hypnotherapy and yoga can be as effective as diet to manage IBS.

It doesn’t actually matter what you do, as long as it relaxes you. Some ideas include:

  • Meditation, mindfulness techniques, deep breathing and taking time out to wind down and relax the entire nervous system.
  • Light exercise like yoga, Pilates, swimming or just a walk in the fresh air.
  • Engaging in activities you enjoy like baking, reading or colouring.
  • Limit distractions during meal times, and eat slowly and mindfully in a relaxed environment.

Decide what works for you best and prioritise 10 minutes a day to self-care.




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