That Disordered Digestion

IBS is a multifactorial problem

The onset of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and heartburn often begin in times of grief, abuse or other major negative life events.  IBS is a multifactorial chronic disorder affecting 10-20% of the population worldwide. Of those with IBS, almost 40% experience bouts of anxiety and depression. 

When it comes to irritable bowel issues, in addition to considering food sensitivities, food quality or the handling, you may also consider an imbalance of the microbiome and how it interplays with relevant perception of stress in your life.

What the patient takes beyond his ability to digest does him harm – Dr. Samuel Gee

Stress and the Bowel

Our “gut feelings” are real. It is a response from sensory of the internal organs, namely the bacteria in the gut to the brain, in response to what is going on in the world around us.

If it doesn’t surprise you, there are actually more bacterial cells in the gastrointestinal tract than there are human cells in the body. One could argue we are bacteria having a human experience. 

Study in the microbiome is rapidly advancing and with it a deeper understanding of how it interacts with our moods.  

Acute reaction to stress delays stomach emptying (thus the heart burn, indigestion and possible nausea) and accelerated colonic transit (thus the diarrhea). For some, emotional stress halts upper and lower digestion leaving constipation and lower abdominal pain, rather than the accelerated emptying. 

Common gastrointestinal symptoms of stress

  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain, bloating or cramping 

Dr. Laura M. Brown, is a registered naturopathic doctor in Guelph with a functional medicine approach. She focusses on stimulating the body’s natural mechanisms to repair damage and rebuild health. A HeartMath® Certified Practitioner and a level 2 Certified Gluten Free Practitioner, she holds the designation of ADAPT Trained Practitioner from Kresser Institute, the only functional medicine and ancestral health training company.


Distrutti E, Monaldi L, Ricci P, Fiorucci S. Gut microbiota role in irritable bowel syndrome: New therapeutic strategies. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2016;22(7):2219-2241. doi:10.3748/wjg.v22.i7.2219.

Kabra N, Nadkarni A. Prevalence of depression and anxiety in irritable bowel syndrome: A clinic based study from India. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. 2013;55(1):77-80. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.105520.

Lee C, Doo E, Choi JM, et al. The Increased Level of Depression and Anxiety in Irritable Bowel Syndrome Patients Compared with Healthy Controls: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2017;23(3):349-362. doi:10.5056/jnm16220.

König J, and Brummer RJ. Alteration of the intestinal microbiota as a cause of and a potential therapeutic option in irritable bowel syndrome Beneficial Microbes, 2014; 5(3): 247-261. School of Health and Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Örebro University, 701 82 Örebro, Sweden; Wageningen Academic Publishers.