In a previous column, I discussed diet and lifestyle choices that could help people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) move beyond just managing symptoms, so to reframe what it means to develop and live with IBD and take back control of their health.
As that column detailed, the reality is that the relief for IBD is in day-to-day diet choices that are lifestyle choices. But looking at nutrition is just one piece of the puzzle. Mind/body health is just as important.
Treatment for Crohn’s disease is multidisciplinary, and mind/body health and lifestyle choices that become firm habits are of utmost importance. Anxiety, depression, and decreased quality of life are prevalent in individuals with IBD due to fear of relapse and eating challenges in general. Recent studies have shown the promising effects of including and introducing relaxation and mindfulness practices into treatment.
In a study published in August 2015, a randomized control trial was initiated to test the efficacy of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) on patients with IBD due to the increased incidence of depression in this population. The results showed “improvement in depression, trait anxiety and dispositional mindfulness scores in the intervention arm at post-intervention and follow-up suggest that MBCT holds a potential to improve overall symptom management and quality of life for IBD patients.”
Though additional research is still being done around this topic, recent correlations between the health of the gut and mood suggest a potential for therapeutic interventions from both the physiological and the psychological realms when treating IBD. This is great news, as we now know that physiological symptoms cause stress and stress causes physiological symptoms, as supported by this review article in the Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience journal published in October 2015.
“Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a GI disease characterized by overt inflammation, is also associated with intestinal barrier dysfunction, increased intestinal permeability, immune dysregulation and an altered gut microbiota. IBD is also associated with a higher prevalence of anxiety and depressive disorders. Moreover, stress can adversely affect the course of IBD,” its authors write.
“Both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis exhibit alterations in the expression of the tight junction proteins, claudin and occludin. Interestingly, recent preclinical evidence suggests that chronic intestinal inflammation alters hippocampal neurogenesis which itself in influenced by the gut microbiota.” (Hippocampal neurogenesis refers to the creation of new nerve cells, or neurons, from stem cells in the hippocampus, the brain area that governs cognitive abilities and emotions/moods.)
Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere at anytime. It is truly about a mindset. Intending to bring attention to the present and taking a few moments to pause, feel into your experience, and perhaps take a small action toward self care is all it takes.
Examples of practices to add into your routine include:
- Daily gratitude meditation and journaling.
- Mild yoga and breath work.
- Consider seeking out a social worker or psychologist to support mental health.
- Reduce high-intensity exercises, experiences, and people.
- Lessen daily exposure to chemicals found in cosmetics, air fresheners, cleaning products, and plastics. They are called xenoestrogens and can disrupt hormone balance, leading to inflammation and potentially triggering IBD. Other sources include plant pesticides and genetically modified foods (GMOs).
As you begin to expand your awareness into this practice, you will begin to notice a natural sense of ease. Not that it is easy or more comfortable all the time, but rather your relationship to the IBD will change. You will become more attuned to the arising of its symptoms, and perhaps find the presence to intervene earlier through different choices.
Alana Kessler, MS, RD, CDN, E-RYT, is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, weight management expert, and an accredited member of the CDR (Commission on Dietetic Registration) and the American Dietetic Association. She is also a yoga and meditation teacher, Ayurveda specialist, and the founder of the New York City-based fully integrated mind, body, and spirit urban sanctuary, BE WELL. Alana’s BE WELL ARC System and Method Mapping technique is a holistic multidisciplinary approach to health and wellness that blends Eastern and clinical Western diet and lifestyle support to effect long-lasting behavior change.
A graduate of NYU with a BA and MS in clinical nutrition, Alana is dedicated to helping others learn how to nourish themselves, create balance, and understand their true nature through nutrition, yoga, and inner wellness. She leads Yin Yoga workshops and trainings as well as wellness retreats at international locations. Her health, fitness, and lifestyle expertise has been featured in Aaptiv.com, Droz.com, EatThis.com, RD.com, Redbook, WomensHealthmag.com, and Vogue. For more information, visit her website at bewellbyak.com.