Irritable bowel syndrome is not often thought of as a stress-related disorder, but as it turns out, the brain can play a significant role in the health of our gut and digestive systems. And this is a two-way street, as the health of our gut can dramatically affect normal brain functioning, altering our emotions, mood, and even sleeping patterns.
This is why common treatments for IBS usually encompass several types of treatment protocols, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, diet changes, and even anti-anxiety medication, as there’s no “magic bullet” that can cure IBS and its symptoms in one fell swoop.
In this article, we will discuss what Irritable Bowel Syndrome is, what causes it, and what treatment protocols are available, including the Drake Institute’s non-drug treatment options, which are effective at helping reduce IBS, as well as other stress-related disorders like general anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder that typically affects the large intestine of the digestive tract. While IBS impacts intestinal functioning, it usually doesn’t cause intestinal damage, and there is little to no correlation between IBS and the development of gastrointestinal cancers. [i]
IBS affects approximately 25-45 million individuals in the U.S. and about 10-15% of the world’s population. Indeed, IBS is one of the most common intestinal disorders, and while most afflicted individuals are under the age of 50, IBS can affect people of all ages, including children. [ii]
The symptoms of IBS can vary greatly from person to person and depend on a variety of factors, including their genetics, levels of stress and anxiousness, and diet.
Below are some of the most common symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome:
Unfortunately, there are no clear answers as to how IBS develops. However, factors such as genetics, diet, previous infections or trauma, and even allergies could contribute to the development of IBS. [iii]
Even though stress and anxiety may not directly cause IBS, there is still a strong association between IBS and anxiety, and in some cases, anxiety can increase the intensity of intestinal symptoms.
Many doctors and medical professionals have recognized this connection between the brain and gut, and according to some estimates, about 60% of those suffering from IBS also suffer from one or more co-occurring psychiatric conditions. [iv]
Of these disorders, general anxiety disorder appears to be the most common, although a significant percentage of afflicted individuals also suffer from depression. As it turns out, some medical professionals believe that stress and anxiety can actually cause a person to become more aware of the dysfunction that is occurring in their colon. [v]
In some cases, IBS and stress can create a negative feedback loop where symptoms like gastrointestinal pain, nausea, and cramping lead to increased levels of stress, worsening the person’s IBS symptoms, leading to additional stress, etc.
Treatment of IBS usually encompasses 3 protocols: diet change, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication.
Diet changes can play a significant role in providing IBS symptom relief, as the food we eat directly affects how our stomach, intestines, and digestive systems function. This is especially true when it comes to fiber intake levels, since most Americans don’t include enough fiber in their diet.
On average, adults should be consuming around 35 grams of fiber per day; however, the National Institute of Diabetes reports that most individuals only eat about 5-14 grams per day. [vi]
However, eating more fiber doesn’t work for everyone: whenever a change in diet occurs, those with IBS must pay close attention to how their body responds. In some cases, increasing fiber intake can actually make IBS worse, especially if the afflicted individual suffers from bloating and diarrhea.
Eliminating gluten is another option that works well for some individuals with IBS, as gluten can sometimes damage the intestines of those who are gluten-intolerant or gluten-sensitive. Foods that contain high amounts of gluten include barley, rye, wheat, pasta, bread, etc., and luckily, most major grocery stores now carry plenty of gluten-free alternatives.
Another option is adopting an elimination diet, which involves avoiding certain foods for at least 12 weeks to see whether IBS symptoms improve. Although elimination diets can be difficult to follow, they can often yield positive results, especially for those people with IBS related to food sensitivities or allergies.
No matter what diet you decide on, it’s important to first discuss the changes you’re considering making with your doctor or a dietician for guidance, as diet changes can lead to health complications if they are not utilized appropriately and according to the needs of each individual.
Because of the strong connection between the brain and the gut, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another well-regarded, commonly effective treatment for IBS.
As it turns out, about 95% of the body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps control sleep, mood, and appetite, is found in the gut. What’s more, serotonin and other chemical messengers are the primary vehicles by which information is passed back and forth between the brain and gut; therefore, our emotions and mood are directly linked to the health of our gut, and the health of our gut is directly linked to our emotions![vii]
When this process becomes dysregulated, the afflicted individual is thrown into another negative feedback loop that is difficult to escape without some kind of intervening force. Interestingly, CBT has been shown to help break this cycle, as individuals who go through CBT learn how to control their emotions and enter a state of relaxation that helps minimize their IBS symptoms.
Because of the strong relationship between stress and IBS, many individuals are prescribed anti-anxiety medication; however, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications like Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, etc., carry the possibility of significant negative side-effects, including nausea, nervousness, dizziness, insomnia, headache, dry mouth, diarrhea, and other potential issues.
Making matters worse is the fact that anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants are not always effective over the long term; in fact, individuals can develop a tolerance for these kinds of medications, requiring that their dosage be increased for the same level of symptom reduction.
Finally, it’s important to point out that drug-based treatments are typically only short-term solutions, because once the individual stops taking their medication, their anxiety and intestinal distress may return.
Since 1980, the Drake Institute has utilized the mind-body connection to develop non-drug, non-invasive treatment protocols that provide symptom relief for many stress-related disorders, including PTSD, General Anxiety Disorders, Panic Attacks, Insomnia, Tension Headaches, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Because our treatment protocols don’t rely on drugs, patients are able to avoid exposure to potential uncomfortable side effects of medications, and symptom relief can be achieved over the long term. This is because our treatment protocols help target the root of stress and anxiety-related illnesses: the brain.
By helping the brain self-regulate and reorient itself into a more normal functioning pattern, the patient can reduce the anxiety and emotional distress that is exacerbating or triggering their IBS symptoms.
Brain mapping is the core of our Neurotherapy treatment protocols, as it provides us a window into the patient’s brainwave patterns.
By examining each patient’s dysregulated brain wave patterns, we can create custom treatment protocols based on their unique circumstances.
In the case of IBS and stress, brain mapping can help identify which areas of the brain are under or over-activated and contributing to the patient’s symptoms. During treatment, we’ll then target these regions to alleviate the patient’s distress and minimize the manifestation of IBS symptoms.
Indeed, brain mapping is analogous to a physician performing a bacterial culture on a sick patient to determine the proper antibiotic to prescribe. In addition, brain mapping also informs us of whether the symptoms are neurologically based or linked, and when symptoms are neurologically linked, there’s a high probability of treatment success using Neurotherapy.
Once brain mapping is complete, the findings are processed through the FDA-registered normative database to identify regions that deviate from “normal” activity.
When dysregulation is discovered, a custom treatment protocol using Neurofeedback and Neuromodulation therapy can be developed for the patient. This customized process allows us to provide much better results compared to neurotherapy treatment processes that utilize a “one size fits all” approach.
Biofeedback and Neurofeedback treatment is a non-invasive, non-drug training process that helps patients better identify and correct neurophysiological patterns that may be contributing to their negative symptoms.
In many ways, the experience of Neurofeedback is a lot like learning how to ride a bike: although finding your balance can be difficult at first, the combination of visual cues and sensory feedback from the bike helps the rider develop a sense of balance over time. During Neurofeedback, sensors are placed on the patient’s head that records and displays the patient’s current brain functioning pattern, providing instantaneous feedback into how their brain is working. This process begins to re-train the neurons in the brain, and at the same time allows the patient to develop self-regulation for improving brain functioning.
As an example, one of our Neurofeedback treatments converts the patient’s brainwave patterns into a computer game involving a car driving down a highway. When the patient’s brain shifts into a more normal functioning frequency, the car moves and stays in the proper lane and an auditory tone is triggered. This tone is then repeated every half second that the patient sustains this frequency, helping improve and stabilize this mode of functioning.
With enough practice, treatment protocols like the one above will help the patient achieve a balanced state without the help of instrument feedback.
Another technology utilized at the Drake Institute is Neuromodulation therapy, which was fully integrated into existing treatment protocols in 2019.
In short, Neuromodulation provides therapeutic neurostimulation of dysregulated brain functioning, which helps enhance and accelerate therapeutic improvements gained through Neurofeedback.
Neuromodulation achieves these results by stimulating brainwave patterns that the patient is deficient in and once established, the brain can then mimic or emulate the stimulation to form healthier brain functioning. This treatment protocol can also increase blood flow and reduce inflammation in both the brain and intestine.
This treatment technology is so safe and effective that it is now used worldwide in renowned medical centers such as Harvard University School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, UCLA School of Medicine, and many others.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from stress-induced IBS or a stress-related disorder, please don’t hesitate to call us for a free consultation. Our non-drug treatment protocols have provided many patients with long-term symptom relief.
If you or a family member need help, please fill out our confidential online form. After completing the form, someone from our Clinical Team will contact you in the next 3 hours.
Interview with Dr. David Velkoff
Interview with Dr. David Velkoff
Spanish News Feature
“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Behavioral Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Behavioral Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Behavioral Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Behavioral Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”