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Gene Survey Shows Link Between IBS and Anxiety and Mood Disorders

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has been linked to stress, anxiety, and mood disorders. But whether 1 condition causes the other has stayed open to question. Now a large, international study has found that the same genes affect both IBS and anxiety/mood disorders.1,2

The clustering of IBS in families points to a possible genetic link. People who have a relative with IBS are 2 or 3 times more likely to develop IBS themselves.2

Genetic research on IBS

A large international group reported its research in the November 2021 issue of the journal Nature Genetics. They analyzed the genome – a complete set of genes – of 53,400 people with IBS and compared them to more than 400,000 people without IBS.2

They identified 6 genes related to IBS. Four of the 6 genes either:2

  • Influence mood or anxiety disorders
  • Are expressed in the nervous system
  • Influence mood or anxiety disorders and are expressed in the nervous system

IBS showed the strongest genetic link with anxiety, neuroticism, depression, and schizophrenia. It was not genetically linked with other digestive diseases that have similar symptoms.2

The researchers concluded that IBS and anxiety/mood disorders most likely share the same pathway through the nervous system. Anxiety and mood disorders do not cause IBS.2

They also found that genes have only a small effect on IBS development. They suggested that other factors within families, such as diet, stress, and learned behaviors, are more important triggers for IBS.2

How to cope with IBS

If you have IBS, relaxation techniques may help you manage your condition. Research has found that relaxation therapy is as effective as cognitive behavioral and hypnosis therapies for reducing GI symptoms in adults with IBS. Cognitive behavioral therapy challenges negative thought patterns in order to change behaviors or treat mood disorders.4

Some techniques you can try to relax and relieve stress include:5,6

  • Breathe deeply
  • Take a walk to clear your head
  • Meditate or practice yoga
  • Read a book, short story, or magazine
  • Turn on some music or an uplifting podcast
  • Take a break to pet the dog, hug a loved one, play with your children, or help someone
  • Work out or practice tai chi
  • Connect with a friend
  • Go fishing, bird-watching, or camping
  • Savor the scenery outdoors

Research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy both:3

  • Reduced GI symptoms
  • Showed the greatest improvement for daily functioning when compared with relaxation and hypnosis

If relaxation techniques are not effective at relieving your GI symptoms or if you need help to improve your daily functioning, ask your doctor for a referral.

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