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Many people know that irritable bowel disease and depression often go hand in hand. However, there is no research to suggest that IBD causes depression and vice versa. Still, that doesn’t stop some people with IBD from suffering from depression, and it doesn’t prevent depression sufferers from experiencing some of the same irritable bowel symptoms that come with IBD.

IBD can leave many feeling anxious, uncertain, and socially depressed as they chronically worry about when their symptoms will flare up. At Brain Forest Centers, we have specialized treatments for gut health as well as the brain. We’ve found that neurofeedback training benefits the connection between the brain and the gut – the most crucial relationship in your body.

What is IBD?

Irritable bowel disease (IBD) is the overarching term used to describe the disorders that involve the chronic inflammation of your digestive system. The most common types of IBD include:

  • Ulcerative colitis – a condition that involves inflammation and sores along the superficial lining of your large intestine, colon, and rectum.
  • Crohn’s disease – a condition characterized by the inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, usually involving the deeper tissues.

People suffering from IBD often have chronic diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, fatigue, and extreme weight loss. If left untreated or undiagnosed, IBD can be life threatening.

Symptom Comparison of IBD & Depression

So, what does irritable bowel disease have to do with depression, and what does depression have to do with IBD? We’re glad you asked! Symptoms that appear in the GI tract due to IBD can leave people feeling disconnected from friends and social interactions. IBD can also cause people to miss work, avoid dinner dates with friends, and avoid deep connections with others. Depression symptoms can show up much the same way. People have also reported that depression makes their IBD symptoms worse by increasing their sensitivity to pain and decreasing their mood or emotional regulation.

Here’s a quick comparison between some of the other symptoms:

IBD

  • Bloating & gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Food intolerance
  • Fatigue

 Depression

  • Persistent sad or “empty” feeling
  • Fatigue
  • Sense of worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Reduction in concentration 

Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection

The brain and the gut are in constant communication with one another, always monitoring your body and trying to achieve constant homeostasis. By sending billions of signals through the nervous system every day, your brain and gut communicate when it’s time to eat, drink, sleep, digest, and remove waste. So, you can imagine why irritable bowel disease would make these signals difficult and uncomfortable for the brain to process. Not only is your gut in constant pain and inflammation, but your brain is trying to do all that it can to mitigate the discomfort while still helping you regulate emotions and perform daily tasks.

Conversely, when external stress is applied, the gut’s microbiome changes, preparing your body for fight, flight, or freeze. When you experience anxiety or depression, your brain tells other systems in your body to shift resources to your muscles, heart, and lungs. This communication even goes to your gut, telling it to shut down to conserve energy. It’s here that your gut bacteria changes, and if you’re in a chronic state of anxiousness or depression, it can make your IBD worse.

Trauma Can Make Depression & IBD Worse

It should not be shocking that any sort of trauma, whether in childhood or adulthood, can affect the brain-gut connection. Up to 50% of patients with IBD have experienced some kind of trauma, which is twice the rate of healthy individuals. Some researchers even suggest that trauma is the leading cause of IBD in many people.

Emotional memory is the strongest memory, but it doesn’t always appear in vivid flashbacks. Trauma, such as sexual assaults, vehicle accidents, the death of a loved one, and natural disasters can all lead to PTSD and create issues for the body. Symptoms of trauma may not even surface until later in life. Still, when they do, they typically emerge as both health and mental issues, such as depression and irritable bowel disease. Trauma affects how the brain functions and thus how the body functions.

How Neurofeedback Can Help with IBD & Depression

Neurofeedback has been shown to be a great source of relief for those suffering from depression, irritable bowel disease, or both. By training the brain and encouraging healthier neural pathways, the body can self-regulate and achieve the homeostasis it needs to thrive. Brain Forest Centers is proud to treat patients with IBD, depression, anxiety, and migraines, helping them all achieve peak performance! If you’re looking for relief from any of these, please give us a call today at (317) 288-9828.