Mindfulness may benefit patients with irritable bowel syndrome

Researchers have found that adults with irritable bowel syndrome experienced fewer gastrointestinal symptoms after they participated in a mindfulness programme meant to reduce stress.

Mindfulness is when people are centered and living in the moment, rather than dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common and often debilitating chronic gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain and altered bowel habits.

For the findings, published in the journal Neurogastroenterology and Motility, 53 women and 15 men with irritable bowel syndrome participated in an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction class.

“This study shows that people with irritable bowel syndrome can have significant improvements in their symptoms and quality of life without medication or diet change, just by participating in a mindfulness-based stress reduction class,” said study senior author Kirsten Tillisch from the University of California, Los Angeles in the US.

According to the researchers, most participants experienced significant improvements from pre-treatment to three months follow up regarding gastrointestinal symptoms, quality of life, and anxiety related to gastrointestinal symptoms.

Although increases in three of the five measured facets of mindfulness were found, increases in the ability to stay in the present moment and act with awareness seemed especially important, the study said.The study found that mindfulness-based stress reduction training was associated with robust improvements in gastrointestinal symptoms and associated problems in participants with irritable bowel syndrome.

“It appears that by improving this moment to moment awareness in their daily actions, people with irritable bowel syndrome feel better, possibly because this mindful activity in the present moment keeps the brain from going back to old fears or worries,” Tillisch said.

These results may inform the refinement of mindfulness-based protocols specifically for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, the researchers noted.

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