Anxiety and IBS
Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects so many people, and there isn’t one cause nor is there one solution that works for everyone. However, there is commonly a stress/anxiety connection and that’s often overlooked. If I speak with people in the health food store, who are looking for a remedy to their digestive system woes (commonly diarrhoea, gas and pain; for some people alternating with constipation) they usually ask for probiotics.
But quite often, if you delve a little deeper, there’s an anxiety trigger for these symptoms.
Stress and digestion
When we face prolonged stress, simple things like eating lunch at work could result in painful digestive symptoms. If we eat when stressed, low stomach acid can result in the heavy feeling of food sitting in the stomach. Poor digestion leaves food fermenting and creating painful gas.
Stress hormones can also speed up intestinal muscle function; stools pass too quickly and are unpleasantly runny because there isn’t time for water to be absorbed. That’s commonly experienced when we have expectation anxiety - public speaking and so on.
As is often the case with stress, there can be a vicious cycle going on too. Digestive problems and especially diarrhoea are themselves a source of stress and anxiety! Society isn’t particularly easy-going about toilet-related troubles - and it doesn’t help that public toilets are few and far between.
The good thing if you find an association between anxiety and IBS reactions is that simple remedies to manage anxiety could help reduce uncomfortable digestive issues.
For example: you’re at work (or perhaps more accurately, at home) and on edge. Instead of eating lunch in this state, first use some calming supplements plus other techniques that work for you (breathing, listening to music, exercise perhaps). I like valerian for this, but a lot of people can’t take it in the daytime due to drowsiness. So my favourite supplement for this purpose is L-Theanine - it’s such a lovely, calming nutrient!
This theanine supplement is very useful where concentration is also required - so exams, public speaking, work events and so on.
A remedy that’s useful for quickly dealing with painful gas is activated charcoal which you can get as capsules, tablets or powder.
Medical diagnosis and recommendations can be quite vague as IBS can have so many triggering factors - physiological, dietary and psychological. It’s difficult to give suggestions that will work for everyone. Looking at dietary factors, for example, increasing fibre is a common recommendation but this worsens symptoms for some! There could be food triggers as well, and it’s important to see your GP in case symptoms are from undiagnosed coeliac disease.
Stress management and regular exercise are commonly helpful. City Survivor Night Support formula with L-Theanine is calming (to promote natural sleep), rather than sedating, and because of that you can take it in the daytime. In my experience, Theanine can be very helpful for IBS when related to anxiety.
Diet is a tricky one because individuals need to discover their triggers - food elimination trials are effective if you suspect intolerances. Probiotic bacteria supplements often help, but again may take some trial and error - some probiotics contain FOS (prebiotic fibres) which are helpful for some, but a cause of painful gas for others. L-tryptophan or 5-HTP may also be useful where there’s a depression or anxiety factor.
Peppermint capsules between meals help some people, as do fennel and mint herbal teas.
Thanks for reading! I hope this gives you some useful considerations if you, or anyone you know, struggles with occasional digestive discomforts.
Nutritional Therapist and founder of City Survivor supplements