Rising Mental Health Concerns Surrounding GI Disorders | April Editor’s Choice

NATASHA PANDIT | Senior Editor

Though likely to be a lesser-known health observance, April is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Awareness Month, as established by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders almost two decades ago.1 Outside of healthcare settings, bowel-related conditions are often swept under the rug as unspeakable and embarrassing topics of discussion, as are various mental health conditions. However, the extent to which psychology and physiology are integrated with each other and can interfere with one’s daily life is too significant to ignore.

In their Fall 2013 article, “The Mind-Body Interaction: An Exploration through IBS,” Writers Andrew Jarrah and Tad Umali addressed the psychosomatic relevance of IBS, defined as “a disease of the gastrointestinal tract, which is characterized by altered motility in the tract itself in addition to bloating, straining, and abdominal discomfort,” and identified mental conditions such as anxiety and stress as associated symptoms.2 They explained that the physiology of the GI tract is compromised when the reduced activity of a protein called occludin causes a gap to develop between cell layers in the tract, allowing excess particles to accumulate and hinder functioning. While a causal connection between this anatomical change and psychological stress has not been confirmed, a correlation may exist.

In recent news, a study found in the April 2016 issue of Gastroenterology, titled, “Depression and Somatization Are Associated With Increased Postprandial Symptoms in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome,” builds upon the link between mental health and gastrointestinal issues, as researchers found that in a sample of IBS patients, a positive association was found between the GI symptoms experienced after a meal and “psycho-social co-morbidities,” including depression and anxiety.3 These findings may be reflective of a larger-scale issue that the public is not yet fully aware of. Thus, while there is scope for further research on the chemistry responsible for the correlation between gastrointestinal and mental health, increasing awareness of and openness to discussion of these issues is a crucial first step.

Download Andrew Jarrah and Tad Umali’s Fall 2013 article

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. April is IBS Awareness Month. http://www.aboutibs.org/site/living-with-ibs/ibs-awareness-month/
Jarrah A, Umali T. The Mind-Body Interaction: An Exploration through IBS. Medical Dialogue Review. 2013; 13: 18-19.
Van Oudenhove L, Törnblom H, Störsrud S, Tack J, Simrén M. Depression and Somatization Are Associated With Increased Postprandial Symptoms in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology. 2016; 150: 866–74. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2015.11.010

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