What helps ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome?

Mindfulness-based stress reduction significantly improves symptoms of irritable bowel disease, says study.

The risk of being diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) seems to be higher in middle age. In 2016, adults aged 40-49 years made up the highest proportion of people diagnosed with IBS.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common condition characterised by a cluster of unpleasant symptoms such as; abdominal discomfort, pain, bloating and bowel changes, which impede the quality of life for those suffering from the disorder.

Managing symptoms and preventing relapse are ways to treat the condition. People are often advised to remove gut-irritating foods from the diet, exercise and reduce stress.

Research published in the Journal Neurogastroenterology and Motility found that just over 71% of men and women suffering from IBS found symptoms improved significantly after completing an 8-week Mindfulness-based stress reduction course.

Three months after completing the course, the volunteers said they worried less about their symptoms and felt their quality of life had improved.

It appears that raising awareness, a key aspect of mindfulness training, gave the most benefit. Awareness means learning to be present in the moment rather than acting on autopilot or letting the mind drift off into ruminating or distracting thoughts.

“This study shows that people with irritable bowel syndrome can have significant improvements in their symptoms and quality of life without medication or diet change, just by participating in a mindfulness based stress reduction class. Further, it implicates a specific aspect of mindfulness as particularly important: acting with awareness. It appears that by improving this moment to moment awareness in their daily actions, people with irritable bowel syndrome feel better, possibly because this mindful activity in the present moment keeps the brain from going back to old fears or worries.” said Kirsten Tillisch, MD, senior author at the University of California, Los Angeles to Science daily.

Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn first developed Mindfulness-based stress reduction training (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts to teach people how to manage thoughts, feelings and behaviours associated with stress, depression and pain. Over the past decade, mindfulness training has been the subject of extensive clinical research, which indicates numerous benefits for mental and physical health.


Naliboff.B.D., Smith.S.R., Serpa.J.G et al. (2020). Mindfulness-based stress reduction improves irritable bowel syndrome symptoms via specific aspects of mindfulness. Neurogastroenterology & Motility. On line 7 April 2020. Doi: doi.org/10.1111/nmo.13828

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