According to Medical University of Vienna, Austria, hypnotherapy is still one of the most effective Irritable Bowel Syndrome treatment methods and can also alleviate symptoms.
Individuals who suffer from stress-related Irritable Bowel Syndrome have a distinctive microbial signature in their gut. Now, studies conducted by a research group at Medical University of Vienna’s Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, has found that holistic, hypnosis therapy is significantly more effective at implementing Irritable Bowel Syndrome treatment than symptomatic or probiotic treatment alone.
Psychologically distressed IBS sufferers display a distinguishing microbial signature
Internist and psychotherapist Gabriele Moser explained: “A comparison of completed stress questionnaires with associated stool samples showed a correlation between the incidence of specific gut bacteria and psychological distress such as stress, depression and/or anxiety.
“This validates the importance of the so-called gut-brain axis, the relationship between the gut microbiome and the mind.”
For this reason, many research and treatment approaches focus on restoring an ideal balance in the patient’s gut flora by means of probiotic diets (e.g. using food supplements). However, as Moser’s study group discovered in a further study, a holistic, psychosomatic approach (hypnosis therapy) works even better.
Patients who had undergone hypnotherapy exhibited significant alleviation of their symptoms, while the composition of their gut bacteria had not changed as a result of treatment.
Moser adds: “More in-depth studies must be conducted to find out whether something has changed on another level, e.g. bacterial metabolism, because the original composition of the gut flora remains the same.”
Research into the brain-gut axis has shown that stress can inhibit the signals sent through the vagus nerve and cause gastrointestinal problems, such as IBS. Stress can also affect the types of microbes present in the gut. Information sent through the vagus nerve results in increased or decreased movement through the GI tract. What we think – and whether those thoughts lead us to a ‘rest and digest’ or ‘fight or flight’ state – directly impacts what is happening in our gut at any time. We don’t know exactly why people with IBS experience a greater response in their gut to stress than other people, but we do know that people with IBS often have other psychiatric and psychological conditions, including anxiety and depression, and IBS patients often have increased levels of hormones involved with the stress response. In many cases, people with IBS have experienced a life trauma, and a history of sexual abuse is more common in patients with IBS. The way in which IBS is affected by emotions might be linked to the intensity of the emotion and how a person responds to that emotion. Feelings of anger, aggression and excitement appear to increase colonic movement while hopelessness and happiness to a decrease in colonic movement.
This clearly demonstrable link between thought, emotion, and gut function has led to a considerable body of research into the effectiveness of hypnotherapy in the management and improvement of IBS which shows that not only does hypnotherapy lead to an improvement in symptoms, but it also helps people improve their confidence, self-esteem, and mood, with long-lasting effects8. Much of the research has focused on ‘gut-directed’ hypnotherapy which attempts to improve the functioning of the gut by activating the parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ state and improving gut movement. Using imagery and positive suggestion, research has shown that hypnotherapy can reduce hypersensitivity in the gut9 and positively affect motor function10. More recent research has also shown that hypnotherapy can help people to identify and modify the negative emotional responses which are causing or exacerbating their IBS. By experiencing, under hypnosis the effects of this helpful emotional response, and by following up the work done during sessions with self-hypnosis and relaxation, people have experienced improvement in their IBS symptoms.
Far from being a condition which is confined to the gut, IBS benefits greatly from therapeutic interventions. Hypnotherapy has an advantage over talking therapies in terms of focusing not only on the link between thoughts, emotions, and gut function but in being able to encourage a relaxation response and reduce stress and anxiety levels generally, with the help of ongoing self-hypnosis. From group hypnosis to virtual hypnosis to individualized hypnosis, hypnotherapy looks likely to gain in popularity as people become aware of its effectiveness in treating IBS.