Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gastrointestinal disorder that manifests itself in a variety of digestive symptoms such as pain, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation. Worldwide, about 11% of the population suffers from IBS, and women are affected more often than men (1,2). The usual treatments are dietary changes or probiotics. The most effective diet for treating IBS symptoms is the LOW-FODMAP diet (3). Another even more effective method used now is hypnotherapy (gut directed hypnosis) – and this has even been scientifically proven (4).
Diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome – the cause is often unknown
The precise causes of irritable bowel syndrome are not fully understood. Depending on which symptoms are in the foreground, IBS is divided into four types: The diarrhoea type, the constipation type, the pain type and the bloating type. In addition to these four main types, mixed types also occur. Possible causes can be food intolerances, for example, but an imbalance of the gut microbiome (dysbiosis) can contribute to irritable bowel syndrome as well. If the natural balance of bacteria in the gut gets out of whack, it can affect intestinal function. However, irritable bowel syndrome is often triggered or aggravated by stress or psychological problems. (5) No wonder, because our gut is in direct communication with our brain.
The gut-brain communication
Science has known for a long time that our brain communicates with our gut – and vice versa. One of the main pathways for this communication is a nerve that runs the length of our body and connects our body organs (including our gut) directly to our brain. This is called the vagus nerve and acts as an highway through which the brain sends signals to the gut and the gut sends signals to the brain. So it can happen that when we feel stressed or anxious, it hits our gut pretty hard. Especially in irritable bowel syndrome, even minimal psychological stimuli often trigger strong intestinal activity. (6) And this is where hypnosis comes into play.
What does hypnosis mean?
Hypnosis is a method people use to put themselves or others into a relaxed state of consciousness. The so-called hypnotherapy has proven itself in the treatment of a wide variety of ailments. In psychology, hypnotherapy is used to treat anxiety, depression, compulsions and eating disorders. Addictions (e.g. smoking) and chronic pain can also be treated well with it. (7,8)
What is gut directed hypnosis?
Gut hypnosis is now recommended in national and international guidelines for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. It is the only causal therapy that directly addresses the gut-brain axis and corrects faulty connections there. In contrast to other measures, gut hypnosis also addresses the causes and not just the symptoms of IBS.
How does gut hypnosis work?
Gut hypnosis can either be practiced together with a therapist or as an alternative to self-application with a suitable audio programme. Studies have shown that both therapist-assisted and self-application of gut hypnosis lead to similar positive results in irritable bowel syndrome patients (11).
The effectiveness of gut hypnosis for IBS
The use of specific gut hypnosis to treat irritable bowel syndrome was first developed in the 1980s. It was already suspected that there were psychosomatic causes behind irritable bowel complaints. The gastroenterologist Prof. Peter Whorwell treated patients with hypnotherapy.
Over the course of 12 sessions, the hypnosis patients were led to believe that their gastrointestinal tract was functioning calmly and rhythmically and that they were taking control of their digestion. This not only positively influenced and calmed the hypersensitivity of the gastrointestinal tract to pain, but also the intestinal movements: to the surprise of the scientists, hypnotherapy was able to significantly improve abdominal pain, flatulence and general well-being in about two-thirds of the patients. As studies have shown, this positive success of hypnotherapy lasts for months (12).
In the meantime, studies are available that have come to similar, positive results, which has led, among other things, to hypnosis being recommended for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. (9,10)
70 percent respond positively to treatment with hypnotherapy
The effectiveness of hypnotherapy was also confirmed by a study of the Medical University of Vienna, which was published in the specialist journal “International Journal of Molecular Sciences”. According to the study, up to 70 percent of those treated responded positively to the psychosomatic holistic treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with hypnosis. This percentage was significantly lower with purely symptomatic or probiotic nutritional therapies. (4)
Gut and nervous system are in constant exchange via the so-called gut-brain axis
Nervous signals are constantly sent between the gut and the brain that tell us, among other things, when we are hungry or when we have eaten too much – to name just two of countless connections. On the other hand, our mental state also has a direct connection to our digestion: for example, sudden anxiety can trigger an urge to have a bowel movement and stress can lead to nausea. In irritable bowel syndrome in particular, even minimal psychological stimuli often trigger strong bowel activity.
Today, gut hypnosis is considered a recognised medical relaxation technique that has proven its effectiveness in various scientific studies. Of course, hypnosis is not a panacea, but it is a side-effect-free way to relieve the symptoms of digestive problems.
By the way, another exciting way to provide relief is yoga. We have an exciting article on this topic by Eva Maria Hoffmann-Gombotz, a doctor of microbiology and yoga teacher: Om, for the microbiome – That’s why yoga is healthy for your gut