By Jeffrey Lazarus, MD, FAAP on March 24, 2022
Author, Controlling Your Gut Feelings Blog
How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Treat IBS By Healing Your Gut Microbiome
A couple of years ago, I spoke with an old friend whom I hadn’t spoken with for a couple of years. I asked him how he was doing, and he replied:
“Great! In fact, I’m getting out of the hospital tomorrow, 2 days ahead of schedule!”
I inquired about what was going on, and he said:
“I was diagnosed with cancer. And then I had radiation and chemotherapy. And the tumor was finally small enough that the doctors could operate and remove it. The surgery went well and now I’m going home 2 days early!”
I was immediately struck by how up-beat he sounded, like his old fun self.
And I asked him. “How is it that you are so cheerful, and someone else, with the same circumstances, might be terribly depressed?”
He answered, “We are all dealt our hand of cards. And it’s how we play the hand that counts…
We can’t control what happens to us. But we can control how we respond to it.”
I absolutely love this little anecdote because it reveals a deeper truth behind the root cause of the suffering of people with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), anxiety, and even depression…
And also points to the most effective treatment – proven by science – which I’ll explain as you keep reading.
What this short story shows so well is…
Our Thoughts Affect How We Feel
How is it that the same situation can cause one person to react with tremendous anxiety, and another person to be able to tolerate it?
If someone’s parent is a minute late picking him up from school, one kid might worry, “What if she forgot? Or was in an auto accident?”
Yet another kid might think, “Maybe traffic was heavy. Or my mom got a late start.” And then be relatively patient and tolerate the uncertainty.
The first kid, worried about being forgotten or their mom’s being hurt, will feel anxiety and concern, which can make symptoms of IBS – including pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or constipation – much worse.
Meanwhile, the second kid, in the same situation as the first, won’t feel much besides maybe a little impatience.
Now, this part is very simple… but also very important:
How they think about the situation they’re in
determines how they feel.
Of course, we all know that there is a strong mind-body connection.
When we are upset emotionally, it affects us physically. We might experience symptoms such as rapid heart rate, tense muscles, and “butterflies in our stomach.” This is along the lines of the “flight or fight response.”
And when our bodies are physically unwell, it affects us emotionally.
What’s really fascinating is that…
How We Think Affects the Microorganisms in Our Gut Microbiome!
Yes! Now it’s really coming together…
Our thoughts not only affect our feelings… they actually impact our gut microbiome!
A fascinating article was written by Jacobs, Gupta, Bhatt, Mayer, et al showing that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can affect the gut microbiome!
CBT is a treatment method I’ve been using for many, many years to help my patients with IBS and other hard-to-treat issues.
There is a great deal of evidence-based medical research that supports the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in the treatment of IBS.
In fact, it’s been proven by science to be the one of the two most effective treatment plans available.
However, this finding that CBT physically affects the gut microbiome is absolutely astounding to me!
I can understand that CBT can alter how we feel emotionally about something. But to think that it can actually change the microorganisms in our intestines is remarkable.
In addition, the patients who responded to CBT had increased levels of serotonin in their stool samples.
Serotonin is a chemical that is believed to enhance our mood. Low levels are associated with depression, and higher levels with happiness… so finding more serotonin in a patient’s system after CBT treatment is a very good thing.
Again, to think that CBT can change the chemical makeup in our bodies is absolutely amazing.
CBT Is One of the Two Most Effective Ways to Treat IBS
The other is medical hypnosis. I incorporate both of these modalities when I treat patients and also in my home online video program.
Our central nervous system brain, or regular brain, and our gut brain communicate with each other, in both directions, all the time.
It used to be believed that stress or anxiety was the sole trigger for symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
We now know that there are processes inside our gastrointestinal (GI) tract that can also cause these symptoms on their own. If our GI tract is upset, it can trigger anxiety in our central nervous system’s brain!
It’s a vicious circle that can start with either our brain or our gut as they feed off each other to make both anxiety and symptoms worse.
IBS can cause pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or constipation, and/ or any combination of these.
But it doesn’t have to be this way for you.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one treatment approach that I use daily to help patients with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), anxiety, depression, and other “hard to treat” conditions.
To summarize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in one sentence:
“When we change the way we think, we change the way we feel.”
CBT has been proven to be the best treatment for patients with conditions like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), anxiety and/or depression, which Western medicine has traditionally had difficulty resolving.
You Can Feel Better Starting Today
My patients typically see improvement within a few sessions and feel more hopeful than they have in years of traditional treatments.
Finding lasting relief starts with the right approach to treating the whole person, mind and body, so if you or your child are suffering with a GI disorder and are interested in learning more about my approach, you can download my free guide, 3 Things You Can Do Today to Support Your Child with IBS.
If you’re ready to take this complete online program to get relief from IBS and other intestinal dysfunctions, click here to start now.
Or, if you’d like to speak to me personally, I’m certified to practice telemedicine in many states. You can click here to book a free personal consultation.
I hope this article has not only given you a better understanding of the root causes of IBS and ongoing stomach pain (and how the mind-body connection affects them), but also gives you hope that your tomorrows can be better than today.
Jeff Lazarus, MD
Jeffrey E. Lazarus, MD, FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician who combines more than 25 years of general pediatrics experience with the use of medical hypnosis and visualization techniques, cognitive behavioral therapy strategies, and powerful motivational tools.