Why hypnosis is the best natural IBS treatment

hypnotherapy for IBS

Do you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?
Would you like to try a natural IBS treatment?
Did you know that gut-directed hypnotherapy is a recognised medical natural IBS treatment?
In this article, I will explain why gut-directed hypnotherapy is the best natural IBS treatment, in my opinion.

Why hypnotherapy is the best natural IBS treatment

Hypnotherapy is the best natural IBS treatment because it can change how your brain and your gut communicate with each other, which improves the overall functioning of the digestive system.
For example, hypnotherapy can relax the smooth muscle of your gut and even change the amount of acid produced by your stomach!

Many studies have shown that more than 75% of people who had hypnotherapy for IBS found all their symptoms permanently improved. In one of the largest studies of more than 1000 patients with IBS, 76% of patients experienced symptom improvement, including a significant reduction in pain and bloating. And the benefits were still observed months and years later too!

And what’s more, there are absolutely no side effects!
These are just a few reasons I think hypnotherapy is the best natural IBS treatment.
As you keep reading, I further explain what causes IBS and give even more reasons why hypnotherapy is the best natural IBS treatment.

Contents

1. Introduction
2. What causes IBS?
3. How does diet affect IBS?
4. What are the IBS symptoms?
5. How does lifestyle affect IBS?
6. How does stress affect the digestive system?
7. The nervous system and digestive system
8. How can IBS be treated?
9. Why hypnosis is the best natural IBS treatment
10. How gut-directed hypnotherapy can help you
11. How self-hypnosis downloads can help ease IBS
12. References

Introduction

I personally had gut-directed hypnotherapy for IBS about 20 years ago and I know first-hand why hypnotherapy is the best natural IBS treatment.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition.
IBS is an extremely common disorder of the gastrointestinal system which affects approximately 10% of people.
Women tend to be more affected than men and it affects young and old alike.

It is not a disorder you can catch or pass on to others.
While some people find they can manage their IBS, others find it has a very negative effect on the quality of their life and need medical assistance.

What causes IBS?

There is no one single factor, but instead, multiple factors that cause IBS.
Different factors contribute to varying degrees from person to person.
Some contribute more, some contribute less to each person.

Two different people with identical symptoms can have different factors that cause their IBS.
What is important is the total contribution of all these factors in managing your IBS.
These are some of the important factors that cause IBS:

  • overactive gut
  • oversensitive gut
  • pain signalling
  • bacteria imbalance
  • genetics
  • stress
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Overactive gut

Overactive gut muscle leads to gut spasms that can cause considerable discomfort and pain.
Spasms can occur in any part of the gut and can be overwhelming for IBS sufferers.
Some gut spasms may last only a few minutes whereas others can last considerably longer.

Oversensitive gut

IBS sufferers can have an oversensitive lining of the gut.
This means they are very aware of their gut activity, including their stomach, intestines, or bowels.

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Pain signalling

Pain signals are normally filtered in the brain stem before they reach the brain.
But with IBS, too many pain signals are sent to the brain.
People with IBS become hyper-aware of sensations and pain in their gut.
This gut pain then leads to an over-sensitive and over-reactive gut.
For example, an upset stomach in a healthy person may last a day or two whereas in someone with IBS, it may last a week or two.

Bacteria imbalance

Gut bacteria play an essential role in gut health and if this delicate balance is disrupted then overall health can be affected.
Gut motility, antibiotics, and diet can have a negative impact on the growth of bacteria in your gut.
A slow-moving gut can lead to a disruption in the healthy balance of bacteria in your gut.
In addition, antibiotics kill good and bad bacteria alike, disrupting the healthy balance.

Genetics

IBS has been shown to run in families which suggests there is a genetic link.
But genetics on its own is not normally a strong enough factor to mean someone will develop IBS.
Genetics combined with one, two or other factors are generally needed to cause IBS.

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How does diet affect IBS?

People with IBS generally develop intolerances to certain foods rather than food allergies.

A food allergy is an immune reaction to food for which you have certain antibodies.
Food allergies are very rapid and happen within minutes and can include abdominal pain, itching, hives, swellings and breathlessness.

On the other hand, food intolerances are not caused by an immune response and happen much more slowly.
Not all foods irritate the gut in the same way and some foods irritate the gut more than others.
Excluding the foods that irritate the gut can be a very useful treatment option.

It is advisable to remove all foods that irritate the gut from your diet and slowly reintroduce them one by one, so you can determine which foods are the worst offenders.

Many IBS sufferers report that their symptoms improve when they eat regular small meals rather than one or two large meals a day.
It is also recommended to avoid eating meals late at night.

Drinks

Moderate fluid intake is recommended and care should be taken to avoid consuming large quantities of water as some IBS sufferers also have an irritable bladder.

Still water is best since sparkling water and sodas make gas and bloating worse.

Drinking large volumes of water does not necessarily improve constipation so it is important to drink just the right amount depending on your lifestyle and circumstances.

Alcohol can sometimes cause problems however gin and vodka are better tolerated than beer and wine.

Tea causes fewer problems than coffee so it appears caffeine is not the problem.

Fibre

The general advice is to eat a high-fibre diet to maintain a healthy gut and prevent disease.
Fibre also encourages the growth of good bacteria which is important for a healthy gut.

There are two main types of fibre:

  • soluble fibre e.g. oats, root vegetables, psyllium
  • insoluble fibre e.g. wholemeal bread, seeds, wholegrain cereals.

Fibre has a laxative effect on the gut and surprisingly bran fibre can make IBS worse, not better.

Fibre can improve constipation but insoluble fibre can also increase bloating, pain and gas.
If you need to increase your intake of fibre, IBS sufferers are advised to eat soluble fibre, such as oats and psyllium.
If you have diarrhoea, then you should be careful with all forms of fibre due to its laxative effect.

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FODMAPs

Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) have been shown to make IBS symptoms worse.
FODMAPs are found in a variety of foods.

Research has shown that excluding foods that are high in FODMAPs can reduce IBS symptoms such as pain and bloating.

Foods that are high in FODMAPs are:

  • bread
  • apples, pears
  • cauliflower
  • sweetcorn
  • onion
  • garlic
  • leeks
  • cows milk
  • sugar substitutes e.g. sorbitol

Foods that are low in FODMAPs are:

  • gluten-free bread
  • banana
  • potato
  • rice
  • carrot
  • swede
  • turnip, parsnip
  • meat, fish and eggs

The app produced by King’s College London and the NHS can be helpful in identifying foods that are low in FODMAPs.

If your IBS symptoms improve after following the low FODMAP diet, then you can reintroduce each food you excluded, one by one, to see which foods caused the most problems.
Some people find their IBS symptoms improve when they follow a low FODMAP and low insoluble fibre diet.

Fats and Protein

IBS sufferers are generally intolerant of fatty food and often feel a benefit when they eat a low-fat diet.

Protein (with the exception of red meat), on the other hand, tends not to make IBS symptoms worse.

Eggs are generally well tolerated in all IBS sufferers.

Gluten

People with IBS can develop a sensitivity to gluten.

In IBS, gluten doesn’t damage the lining of the gut as it does in coeliac disease.

People with IBS are advised to remove gluten from their diet for a month to see if their symptoms improve.

Lactose

IBS sufferers, who are also lactose intolerant, find their IBS symptoms get worse because lactose is fermented in the gut by bacteria.

Lactose does not damage the lining of the gut in IBS.
Most people find their symptoms improve when they reduce milk products.

But is not normally necessary to completely remove lactose from the diet.

Probiotics

There is evidence that people with IBS have a condition called dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis is the abnormal growth of bacteria in the gut.

Probiotics are supplements that can be taken to increase the number of good bacteria in the gut.

Probiotics can be taken as yoghurt or capsules, are totally harmless and have no side effects.
They commonly contain good bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilliae.

There are a number of benefits to taking probiotics because they:

  • boost the immune system
  • reduce inflammation
  • stop germs from getting into the body
  • stop dangerous bacteria growing.

Probiotics work slowly to restore the natural healthy balance of the gut microbiome.
The recommended advice is to take probiotics for at least a month to see if your symptoms improve.
If they do, you should continue taking probiotics for the long term.

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What are the IBS symptoms?

The common symptoms of IBS are:

  • pain
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • bloating
  • gas
  • indigestion
  • lose of appetite
  • nausea
  • heartburn
Pain

Eating often causes pain in IBS sufferers which can be felt in any part of the gut.

Pain is most commonly felt in the abdomen, however, this can vary from person to person.
The most common form of pain is twisting, stabbing or squeezing pain.

The intensity of pain can vary from day to day and sufferers say they even have difficulty standing up because the pain is so bad.

Diarrhoea

Some IBS sufferers experience only diarrhoea, whereas others experience both diarrhoea and constipation.

Some people with diarrhoea-type IBS can visit the toilet anywhere between four to twenty times a day.

Sufferers with diarrhoea often need to find a toilet quickly and therefore need to plan their day around access to a toilet.

Some sufferers even find it difficult to leave their homes to go to work, go on days out, or go for a meal.

Diarrhoea can often be made worse because many sufferers need to go to the toilet after every meal rather than after breakfast with a normal bowel habit.

IBS diarrhoea is mostly due to the rapid movement of digested food through the large intestine rather than the small intestine.

Therefore nutrients are mostly absorbed normally in the small intestine.

Diarrhoea can cause some sufferers to take long periods of time off work which then has a financial impact too.

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Constipation

IBS sufferers with constipation may only use the toilet once or twice a week or even perhaps as long as once every few weeks.

Constipation in IBS causes hard, pellet-like stools, that are often hard to expel.
This causes IBS sufferers to strain for long periods of time which can cause haemorrhoids.

Because of gut hypersensitivity, it often feels like the bowels are not completely empty, which increases the unproductive use of the toilet.

Some sufferers do not have a bowel movement for days whereas others may last for weeks.

Constipation can be due to a problem with propulsion through the colon or the defecation process.

Most people have the urge to use the toilet in the morning after having breakfast and this is called the gastrocolonic response.

People with constipation-type IBS are recommended to eat breakfast and have a hot drink so they can take full advantage of this morning urge.

They should avoid skipping breakfast and ignoring the urge to open their bowels.

Bloating

Bloating is a very common symptom of IBS. For some, the abdomen just feels swollen whereas others suffer from abdominal distension.

Bloating is generally better in the morning and gradually gets worse throughout the day.

Abdominal distension can put pressure on the bladder causing increased urination.

It is believed that distension is caused by a failure of the diaphragm to relax and contract properly, which can result in some sufferers feeling breathless and having heartburn.

Gas

IBS sufferers tend to produce more gas than non-sufferers which is mainly due to the hypersensitivity of the gut.
The gas can be very problematic especially if it has an offensive odour and sufferers find it hard to control its release.

Some of the worst foods that produce foul odours are cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, eggs and red meat.

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How does lifestyle affect IBS?

If IBS is not brought under control it can have a miserable effect on a person’s life.

In addition to the symptoms listed above, constant tiredness, backache, nausea, chest pain and muscle aches can be a major problem in IBS.

Unfortunately, a very healthy diet can make IBS worse, especially if lots of fibre, fruit and vegetables are eaten.
That doesn’t mean IBS sufferers should eat an unhealthy diet, but they should be aware that excessive healthy foods can irritate their gut.

Moderate exercise, rather than strenuous exercise, is beneficial to most people with IBS.

Sleep is equally important because lack of sleep has been shown to make IBS symptoms worse.
It is recommended that you should get 8 hours of sleep per night.

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How does stress affect the digestive system?

Everyone knows that stress can have an effect on their gut, from experiencing ‘butterflies’ in their stomach when they feel nervous.

And stress will affect IBS sufferers more because they may have an over-reactive and over-sensitive gut.

Very severe IBS can cause excessive stress and worry, such as where the nearest toilet is.
In extreme cases, some IBS sufferers might not leave their homes because of the worry of not being able to find a toilet.

About half of all IBS sufferers say their IBS started when they had a stressful period in their life.

IBS may be the source of the stress or alternatively, it can be the largest factor in the cause of IBS.

During a stressful event, the body goes into the ‘fight or flight’ response.
The fight-or-flight response sets off a chain of events inside the body.

Hormones and chemicals are released which puts the body in a state of high alert.
This leads to blood being diverted from your digestive system to your brain and muscles so you can stay alert and take action.

The flight or fight response has existed for 1000s of years.
The body responds in exactly the same way our ancestors’ bodies responded.
The same hormones and chemicals are released and your digestive system responds in the same way.

If you’re in a stressful situation, digesting the last meal you ate is not a priority.
The priority is to run away from or attack the threat.

That’s why in very dangerous situations some people vomit or even worse.
The digestive system will expel a meal from the nearest exit if it cannot digest the meal.

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Although your body is designed to cope with short-term stress, long-term stress can have a serious impact on the normal functioning of your digestive system.
If blood is being diverted away from the digestive system on a regular basis then it can have a detrimental effect on the gut.

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The nervous system and digestive system

Your autonomic nervous system unconsciously controls your digestive system.
The part of the autonomic nervous system involved in the regulation of the digestive system and IBS is the gut-brain axis, which is part of the enteric nervous system.

The gut-brain axis is a network of nerves that controls digestion.
It controls gut motility, secretion of fluids and blood flow.
There is evidence that a malfunction in the gut-brain axis may underlie an overactive and oversensitive gut.

Communication along the gut-brain axis can be in both directions:

  • from the brain to the gut
  • from the gut to the brain

There is evidence that when the gut-brain axis malfunctions it can cause abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhoea.
And when the nerves in the gut become oversensitive they can cause changes in the brain.

Likewise, anxious thoughts and feelings in the brain can cause an overactive gut response.
Overall, a malfunctioning gut-brain axis can cause an imbalance in gut homeostasis, which is when the digestive system is working normally.

It is also thought that a malfunctioning gut-brain axis is related to the imbalance in certain neurotransmitters in the gut-brain axis.
Neurotransmitters allow one nerve to communicate with another nerve.
One of the most important neurotransmitters in the digestive system is serotonin.
Up to 95% of the serotonin produced in the body is found in the digestive tract.
Serotonin is a vital neurotransmitter in the gut-brain axis and is thought to play an important role in gut motility and sensitivity.

It is important to recognise that you cannot consciously control your gut-brain axis.
Therefore, you can’t speed up or slow down your digestive system by consciously thinking about it.

The enteric nervous system has two parts.
One part speeds up the digestive system, like an accelerator, and another part slows down the digestive system, like a brake.
The part that speeds process up is called the sympathetic nervous system and the part that slows down processes is called the parasympathetic nervous system

Your fight-or-flight response is part of the sympathetic nervous system.
The flight or fight response speeds up your body’s processes so you can act as quickly as possible.

Hypnotherapy helps increase the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system which restores the natural balance of the digestive system.

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How can IBS be treated?

Doctors often prescribe anti-spasm medication to relax the muscles of the digestive system which can help relieve cramps.
Doctors also sometimes prescribe laxatives or anti-diarrhoea medication to relieve some of the other symptoms.

In many cases, doctors encourage IBS sufferers to make lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise, improving sleep patterns and avoiding certain foods to reduce the frequency of the attacks.

But many people are looking for a natural IBS treatment and one of the best natural IBS treatments is gut directed hypnotherapy. Indeed, many doctors recommend hypnotherapy as a natural IBS treatment when patients do not respond to medication as stated in the UK government NICE guidelines.

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Why hypnosis is the best natural IBS treatment

natural ibs treatment

One of the most surprising facts about hypnotherapy is that it improves all IBS symptoms, including colonic and non-colonic, which is not the case for IBS medication.

It will not come as any surprise, given the importance of the gut-brain axis, why hypnotherapy is the best natural IBS treatment.

Doctors can recommend gut-directed hypnotherapy and relaxation techniques when someone is not responding to IBS medication.

Many people enjoy hypnotherapy so much that they would like hypnosis to continue beyond the treatment plan.

This is why I teach my client’s self-hypnosis so they can continue to enjoy the benefits of hypnosis.
Self-hypnosis is like any other skill: the more you practice, the better you get at it and the greater the rewards.

Hypnotherapy has been used as a natural IBS treatment for over 30 years at the University of Manchester to treat IBS.
The world-leading IBS expert, Professor Whorwell, has been using gut-directed hypnotherapy with his patients as a natural IBS treatment.

Many studies have shown that gut-directed hypnotherapy can help restore the natural balance and calm of the autonomic nervous system and is one of the main reasons it is such an effective natural IBS treatment.

Hypnotherapy is considered to be a highly effective treatment for stress and anxiety and a large number of studies have shown that hypnosis is an effective natural IBS treatment.

Hypnotherapy uses a state of deep relaxation to stimulate your body’s autonomic nervous system brake.
It helps reset and restore the natural balance of your autonomic nervous system.

The muscles of your gut start to relax when you are in a state of deep relaxation.
This allows food to move through the digestive system in a normal way.
The painful cramps and other symptoms begin to decrease when the digestive system starts to work normally again.

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Why gut-directed hypnotherapy is the best natural IBS treatment

So in summary, gut-directed hypnotherapy is the best natural IBS treatment because it helps change the way the brain and the gut communicate with each other, which calms your digestive system so that it can work more effectively and help you lead a normal life, eating the foods you want to eat.

gut directed hypnotherapy programme

Hypnotherapy helps you deal with your stress and anxiety which can either be the cause or an IBS factor.
This is why hypnotherapy is such a powerful natural IBS treatment in my opinion.

So if you would like to find out how hypnotherapy can be an effective natural IBS treatment for you, and help restore the natural balance of your digestive system, please get in touch to book your free consultation.

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References

  1. Devenney, J., Hasan, S.S., Morris, J., Whorwell, P.J. and Vasant, D.H., 2023. Clinical trial: predictive factors for response to gut‐directed hypnotherapy for refractory irritable bowel syndrome, a post hoc analysis. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics.
  2. Houghton, L. A. (2002). Visceral sensation and emotion: a study using hypnosis. Gut, 51(5), 701–704.
  3. Miller, V., Carruthers, H.R., Morris, J., Hasan, S.S., Archbold, S. and Whorwell, P.J. (2015), Hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome: an audit of one thousand adult patients. Aliment Pharmacol Ther, 41: 844-855. https://doi.org/10.1111/apt.13145
  4. Moser, G., Trägner, S., Gajowniczek, E. E., Mikulits, A., Michalski, M., Kazemi-Shirazi, L., … Miehsler, W. (2013). Long-Term Success of GUT-Directed Group Hypnosis for Patients With Refractory Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 108(4), 602–609.
  5. Tan, G., Hammond, D. C., & Gurrala, J. (2005). Hypnosis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Review of Efficacy and Mechanism of Action. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 47(3), 161–178.
  6. Palsson, O. S., Turner, M. J., & Whitehead, W. E. (2006). Hypnosis Home Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome:A Pilot Study. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 54(1), 85–99.
  7. Palsson, O. S., Turner, M. J., Johnson, D. A., Burnett, C. K., & Whitehead, W. E. (2002). Hypnosis Treatment for Severe Irritable Bowel Syndrome Investigation of Mechanism and Effects on Symptoms. Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 47(11), 2605–2614.
  8. Palsson, O. S., & Whitehead, W. E. (2002). The growing case for hypnosis as adjunctive therapy for functional gastrointestinal disorders. Gastroenterology, 123(6), 2132–2135. 

  9. Palsson, O. S. (2015). Hypnosis Treatment of Gastrointestinal Disorders: A Comprehensive Review of the Empirical Evidence. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 58(2), 134– 158
  10. Palsson, O. S. (2006). Standardized Hypnosis Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome:The North Carolina Protocol. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 54(1), 51– 64.
  11. Schaefert, R., Klose, P., Moser, G., & Häuser, W. (2014). Efficacy, Tolerability, and Safety of Hypnosis in Adult Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Psychosomatic Medicine, 76(5), 389–398.
  12. Simrén, M. (2006). Hypnosis for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Quest for the Mechanism of Action. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 54(1), 65–84.
  13. Whitehead, W. E. (2006). Hypnosis for Irritable Bowel Syndrome: The Empirical Evidence of Therapeutic Effects. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 54(1), 7–20.
  14. Whorwell, P. J., Prior, A., & Faragher, E. B. (1984). Controlled trial of hypnotherapy in the treatment of severe refractory irritable-bowel syndrome. The Lancet, 324(8414), 1232–1234.

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Safety Notice

Whilst many studies have shown that approximately 75% of people respond positively to gut-directed hypnotherapy however individual results can vary.

Before starting any hypnotherapy treatment you should always speak to your doctor to confirm your IBS.
This information is not a substitute for medical, healthcare, or pharmaceutical advice.
Please consult your doctor before changing, stopping or starting any medical treatment.
This information is correct at the time of publication. The author disclaims, as far as the law allows, any liability arising, directly or indirectly, from the use or misuse of this information.

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