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How many brains do you have? A simple question, but not so obvious an answer.

According to modern neurological science we have a so-called second brain in our gut called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). The ENS is two thin layers of more than 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract from oesophagus to rectum. There are more nerve cells in the ENS than in the spinal cord and between 80-90% of your body’s serotonin – the neurotransmitter which affects mood, social behaviour, sleep, memory and sleep – is located here.

According to Jay Parischa M.D., director of the John Hopkins Centre for Neurogastroenerology, “The enteric nervous system doesn’t seem capable of thought as we know it, but it communicates back and forth with our big brain—with profound results.” In the past it was thought that anxiety and depression, originating in our central nervous system (CNS), contributed to functional bowel problems but research now shows that it may also be the other way round – irritation in the gut sends signals to the brain which triggers mood changes. “These new findings may explain why a higher-than-normal percentage of people with IBS and functional bowel problems develop depression and anxiety,” Pasricha says. “That’s important, because up to 30 to 40 percent of the population has functional bowel problems at some point.” (1)

I am writing this particular article to support IBS Awareness Month. Since 1997 the month of April has been designated IBS Awareness Month by the International Federation of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD). During this month the IFFGD focuses on health messages of IBS diagnosis, treatment and quality of life issues. (2)

Although the cause of IBS is still unknown, symptoms which include long term problems with either diarrhoea, constipation, bloating or stomach cramps may be exacerbated by certain kinds of food and many people find stress can also be a trigger. If you feel you have been experiencing such symptoms your initial action should be to visit your GP for an assessment.

The new understanding of the ENS – CNS connection, mentioned above, explains the effectiveness of treating IBS with mind-body therapies such as hypnotherapy. As these two brains talk to each other, so therapies that help one may help the other. The research into helping IBS with hypnotherapy began in the 1980’s and is now an approved approach by the NHS if the condition has persisted longer than 12 months without a positive response to drug treatments. Hypnotherapy helps build a renewed healthy relationship between the two brains and with the improvement in gut function the anxiety and associated moods can improve too.

Dr. Roland Valori, of Gloucester Royal Hospital, said that of his first 100 patients treated with hypnotherapy, symptoms improved significantly for 9 in 10. “Of the relaxation therapies available, hypnotherapy is the most powerful,” he said. He also says that IBS patients often face difficult situations in their lives, and hypnotherapy can help them respond to these stresses in a less harmful way. (3)

So if you have been diagnosed with IBS, remember that your second brain could benefit from the soothing effects of hypnotherapy.

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