I talk a lot about the Low FODMAP diet for controlling Irritable Bowel Syndrome (“IBS”) because it’s proven to be the most effective diet at controlling IBS. Scientifically. Not from alternative medicine folklore.
But sometimes it’s not enough to control IBS. Even when paired with appropriate supplements (i.e. probiotics) and/or medication. The missing key for those who have been struggling with IBS that is not responsive to treatment is often hidden in the Enteric Nervous System.
The Enteric Nervous System (“ENS”) is one of the main divisions of the nervous system that governs the function of the gastrointestinal system, including digestion and motility. It’s quite literally the brain of your gut and is referred to as the Second Brain. When the ENS is thrown off- which can occur from a multitude of factors including stress, lack of sleep and gut infection- digestion and motility go out the window. This often looks like chronic constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, heartburn, or nausea. All of which don’t respond to treatment.
A healthy ENS is absolutely essential to controlling IBS.
I’ve posted before about how dramatically stress affects my own IBS.
Treating a dysfunctional ENS can be challenging, especially when it involves our emotional state. It may require some soul searching: what’s making you unhappy/stressed/anxious? What do you need to let go of? I’m not qualified to tell you what you need in this regard (may I suggest Neghar Fonooni or Jill Coleman?) but I can tell you what lifestyle practices will benefit the ENS.
First of all, sleep should be your number one priority. Quality sleep and getting enough of it. Lack of sleep not only throws the ENS out of whack but it also perpetuates the stressed/anxious cycle. You know: stress = bad sleep = even MORE stress and so on. Commit to sleeping at least 7 to 8 hours. If you have trouble falling asleep, create a pre-bed ritual for yourself. Don’t use any electronics for a minimum of 30 minutes before bed (including t.v. and tablets), sleep in a completely dark room, spend some time reading. Anything that slows down your brain and relaxes you. I find sleep hypnosis recordings helpful when I can’t seem to calm my monkey brain down. Progressive relaxation recordings also work in the same way (try Yoga Nidra).
Your second priority should be movement. Preferably in nature. Take a daily, relaxing walk outdoors. Movement is different from exercise though both are beneficial.
If you are struggling with chronic stress, play around with different de-stressing techniques to find what works for you. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, journal-ling, speaking with a counselor or friend or just a break from your regular routine are all good ways to de-stress.
My challenge for you over the next five days is to:
a) Get eight hours of sleep for five consecutive nights. Bonus if you make at least two of those hours before midnight.
b) Walk for 30 minutes.
Tell me how your tummy feels after the five days. If you struggle to get those two things in let me know and I can help get you there.