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Got IBS? Study Says to Try a Little Mindfulness

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

painIrritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of those physical and emotional disturbances that physicians still scratch their heads at and almost everyone says, “It's stress.” Over the last 10 years there has been an exponential growth in clinically controlled studies that shows mindfulness training as a key intervention for stress reduction. So, it’s not surprising that a recent study found mindfulness training to provide statistically significant reductions in IBS symptoms.

In June, 2011, Susan Gaylord and her colleagues published “Mindfulness Training Reduces the Severity of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Women: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial” in The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Seventy five women were randomly assigned to either a support group or an 8-week mindfulness training group with a half day intensive. The results showed that on a 500 point scale, the support group showed a 30-point reduction in symptoms while the mindfulness group showed a 100 point reduction with 50 points being statistically sign cant.

Why does this work?

Whether IBS stems from stress or is just exacerbated by stress may be like a chicken or the egg scenario. The reason mindfulness training is helpful is based on the latter. When someone has a physiological symptom, the mind goes into overdrive to try and find ways to “fix it.” So what happens? We add stress onto the physiological symptom making it worse.

With mindfulness training, we learn how to come down from our worried minds and relate to the difficult feeling in a less reactive way. So while the pain may still be there, it’s no longer exacerbated by the anxious thoughts. Thus, the reduction in severity of symptoms.

It’s really not rocket science; it’s just a very practical and more skillful way to relate to our discomfort in life.

It’s also not a panacea. I’m guessing, mindfulness training by itself will not “cure” IBS. Maybe a person’s IBS stems from other factors in life that also need to be addressed. Connecting with a community can be extremely healing, good exercise, better sleep or if necessary medical intervention at times.

However, mindfulness training continues to show us that it is a wise way of life that holds tremendous benefits.