IBS – Brain or Gut: Who’s in charge?

“But last time I ate this I was fine!” — is something we regularly hear from people living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

For those trying to figure out their trigger foods and manage their symptoms, it can sometimes be so confusing; one day a certain food is fine, the next they’re doubled up in pain. A meal is so much more than the food we’re eating. In fact, it’s often the context around the food that can cause problems for people with IBS.

It might be that meeting on Monday is in the back of your mind and leads to symptoms on a Sunday evening or an unexpected event like your car breaking down that’s made a day particularly stressful.

Sometimes, the environment we’re eating in can add to stress levels: refereeing an argument between the children, trying to rush out the door, or even a noisy television programme may increase stress levels during meal times and trigger symptoms.


When it comes to stress, there’s a real mind-body connection. Our sense organs pick up on stress then the amygdala, (the mass of grey matter inside the cerebral hemisphere of your brain, involved with the experiencing of emotions), stimulates the sympathetic nervous system.

Whereas some people may get a headache or tense shoulders when they’re stressed, for people with IBS that tension goes straight to their gut.

The signals from the amygdala directly increase the sensitivity of the gut and allow more signals from the gut to reach the brain. This increased sensitivity means you’re more likely to feel the pains or bloating of digestion than you would be at a less stressful time.

Minimise the impact

So, what’s the best way to minimise the impact of stress on the gut? Keeping a diary, such as our Wellness Diary, that tracks not only what you ate but how you were feeling that day can be a great way to uncover hidden patterns between mood and food.

At meal times, allow enough time to prepare and eat your food, and try to make sure you’re eating in a calm environment that won’t add to stress levels.

As with many things, prevention is best. Be proactive about managing your stress levels by giving mindfulness a try and setting aside time to think through what’s happening in your life. A calm mind can be the key to a calm gut.


The IBS Network is a Love Your Gut partner. This is  Love Your Gut Week 2018 – download your Love Your Gut Information Pack here:  https://bit.ly/2xcT3lN