Can Meditation Help Ease IBS?

I remain one of those people often skeptical at claims that just by meditating or practicing yoga one can relieve pain or alleviate disease. However, I have to admit these things, while far from cures, can sometimes at least decrease flares or the degree of the symptoms I or others experience with certain chronic illnesses. And personal experience backs this up.

Deep breaths

I remember one time I was at an indoor conference in Washington D.C. when I was living in Maryland, when I began to experience the telltale cramps and tummy rumblings that meant I might be in need of a bathroom very soon. I was mortified. There were no private bathrooms available and the public stalls had lines snaking around the corner. What was I going to do? I sat down in a chair and closed my eyes and took a bunch of deep belly breaths. I tried to imagine with every breath I was taking in a healing light into my intestines and with every exhale, I was breathing out black smoke of whatever toxic thing it was that had clenched my gut.

Miraculously, it worked. My stomach settled (at least temporarily, till I could get home to my own bathroom). Of course, this hasn't always (or even most of the time) done the trick for me, as sometimes I will be at a point of no return where whatever needs to come out of me is going to do it and no deep breaths or visual exercises are going to make the difference. But it still is a trick to keep up my sleeve to try to calm myself down and it has been effective for temporarily staving off the need to run to the bathroom until I am somewhere more comfortable.

Research says meditation can help with IBS symptoms

Also, it turns out that meditating daily may have a cumulative impact on IBS symptoms as well, as supported by scientific studies.

For instance, researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston discovered in 2015 that engaging in the "relaxation response" of their patients with IBS and IBD (Crohn's and ulcerative colitis) significantly decreased the clinical symptoms of both ailments.1,2 In particular, the study enrolled 48 adult participants — 19 of whom had been diagnosed with IBS and 29 with IBD — in a nine-week group program focused on stress reduction. This program also included meditation-oriented relaxation response exercises to do at-home for 15 to 20 minutes daily. Blood samples were taken from all of the participants in the beginning, middle and end of the study.

The results were that over 200 genes among the IBS patients and more than 1000 genes in those with IBD experienced changes in their expression. Specifically, many of these genes are known to contribute to pathways to the stress response and inflammation in the body; a protein known as NF-κB (one of the ones most profoundly affected by this study) was especially noted for being affected by the meditation practice. This signifies meditation may help tame the stress and inflammatory responses of the body, and therefore reign in some of the contributing or aggravating factors of IBS and IBD.

Even though I have slacked off lately, I find meditating 15 to 20 minutes a day does help me feel better overall, so with this study in mind, I think I am going to get back into the habit!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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