• Dr. Kate Ricciardi

IS IT IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME OR IRRITABLE BRAIN SYNDROME?

Picture this.


You've had an already very busy, physically and mentally exhausting week with everyone needing you At. All. Times.


Add in work. Spouse. Children. Homework. Projects. Groceries. Cooking. Cleaning. Life, right?


Today's no exception...that new project from work is going in 9 different directions, your child has interrupted your very important conference call and in the midst of trying to answer her question, water gets spilled on your laptop. Still on the call, you're trying to juggle salvaging the computer and presenting your information...on the way back from getting the towel to clean up the spilled water on the laptop (during your very important call) you stub not one, but 2 toes on the corner of the desk and stop yourself a split-second away from saying some 'less than professional' words on the call. You get that straightened out, manage to finish your call and now it's time to get dinner together. You're ready to make a meal that you've made 100s of times before and now all of a sudden NO ONE LIKES IT!


Your children start picking on each other and the dog won't stop barking at the birds in the back yard... chaos right...


Now you're in the middle of dinner and you've got to run to the bathroom with belly pain, cramping and diarrhea. You think to yourself, what gives? I haven't had anything out of the ordinary...and it's just awful.


Or, you have pain and gas and just can't go. Then you start to think...when was the last time I pooped?


It can go either way, and you're probably thinking, what the %*$#?


So, let me ask you this. Is it irritable bowel or is it irritable brain?



IBS is a diagnosis that’s given when someone is suffering from abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, or a mix between the 2 and typically what happens is a medical history review, physical exam and maybe even some imaging to rule out the absence of digestive damage for the IBS diagnosis to be given. Maybe you've even heard "everything looks normal."


IBS is a stress-sensitive disorder, so you might ask: which came first, the IBS or the stress?



Our gut and brain are linked together by something called the gut-brain axis so it's important to look at both. IBS and stress can trigger each other. And more research is showing that IBS is a combination of irritable bowel and irritable brain.


A lot of times with stress, we think of cortisol. Over time, with chronic stresses, it can also cause our immune system to not work so well. Stress can also cause chronic inflammation. Inflammation helps to keep cortisol levels up, keeping you in the fight or flight response, and wreaks havoc on the immune system, too. We need our immune system to fight off illnesses, viruses, bacteria, etc.


Think about it like this...the immune system that is constantly working to respond to the inflammation can lead to so many health problems like an increased susceptibility to illnesses, and an increased risk of GI issues because stress can weaken our microbiome and we need a strong microbiome for a healthy immune system.


Having stress and IBS can trigger overactivity of your gut which is why many times people say that stress gives them diarrhea and this is because of the gut-brain axis. This causes the diarrhea and stomach churning that those with IBS know well, but in some the brain signals are underactive, and the gut may slow down, which causes constipation, gas, and belly pain.


So, with something like IBS, diarrhea, constipation or a mix of both...it's a stress-sensitive disorder and we need to look at not only our foods that can trigger symptoms, but also HOW we can manage stress.


Need a place to start for stress management strategies, or some new strategies? This list here has 15 favorites.


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     Dr. Kate Ricciardi, DPT RDN CLT     919-797-9296       rdnutritionconsulting.com      info@rdnutritionconsulting.com

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