The connection between the mind and the body is well known. But it’s not always clear what the connection means or how it works.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a physical condition, but its symptoms may be triggered by psychological factors. Researchers are seeing a link between the brain and gut health. This may play a role in IBS and irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C).
What Is Brain-Gut Communication?
Nerves in the brain, spinal cord, and intestinal tract are all part of the same developmental process during fetal growth. The closeness of these nerves during development may affect their function during adulthood too.
Certain hormones and medications, including antidepressants, create a cycle of interactions between the bowel and the brain. Bowel stimulation can affect areas of the brain and result in emotional distress. This can make bowel function worse.
How Does the Gut Work?
Your gut has its own system of bacteria, sometimes called the microbiome. A recent study showed a lower amount of Bifidobacteria in irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D) compared to patients with IBS-C.
An imbalance of gut bacteria, or an absence of certain beneficial bacteria, can cause mental distress. Yet some antibiotics have a positive effect on mental health. This is because they destroy bacterial strains that may contribute to depression and anxiety. For example, the antibiotic minocycline may enhance antidepressant treatment.
The type of bacteria in your gut can change. Several factors can cause this, including infections, antibiotics, and diet. New treatments for many conditions, including IBS, may involve altering gut bacteria. Medication, probiotics, or dietary changes can produce this change.
What’s the Connection to IBS-C?
IBS-C may be particularly affected by the brain-gut connection. Antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may help regulate bowel signals in IBS-C. Treatment with SSRIs may stimulate nerve activity and restore normal nerve function between the brain and the intestines.
In IBS-C, disrupted nerve pathways between the brain and the intestines may cause increased pain signals. Restoring these nerve connections may decrease the pain often associated with IBS-C.
Although research on the brain and the gut is in its early stages, the findings are promising. In the future, changing the balance of gut bacteria may be a more widely accepted treatment for IBS, chronic constipation, and depression.