We do it 22,000 times a day, sometimes without even noticing. This mainly subconscious effort is complex and affects all parts of our body and mind, helping to decrease stress and improve our wellbeing. Mounting evidence indicates that stress activates symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, leading to more flare-ups. So let’s take a breath and learn about the benefits of breathing for IBD management.
Stressful life, suffering gut
Stress is one of the most influential factors that impact our mind, body, and spirit. Evidence suggests that stress impacts gastrointestinal function, including activating what’s called the gut-brain axis. This is a strong communication system between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract, including the microbiome. So when stress levels are high, this can have a negative impact on the gut.
Although stress doesn’t cause inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), it can exacerbate symptoms such as harming the stomach barrier and gut microbiome. So when we have ongoing perceived stress, research shows that it can impact the disease course in an illness such as IBD and IBS. One of the best ways to address this stressful issue is through psychotherapy and stress management techniques such as just breathing.
During a stressful situation, the brain processes and communicates with the rest of the body via the autonomic nervous system. This system regulates our automatic responses, or those not with conscious control. This is further classified as a sympathetic versus parasympathetic system. The sympathetic nervous system is one involved in “fight or flight” or stressful situations, whereas the parasympathetic system is the “rest and digest” calming system.
To help decrease stress, it’s important to activate the “rest and digest” system by means of the vagus nerve. This nerve connects the brain to many organs. Slow, deep breathing helps activate the vagus nerve which decreases the heart rate, relaxes the body, and eases up on the gut.
Breath for better IBD health
Breathing is a subconscious activity that can be used as a powerful tool to help decrease stress and therefore IBD and other disease condition symptoms, by means of that vagus nerve and parasympathetic system.
Give it a try now. Take a slow and deep breath, filling your lungs with air and letting it out slowly and fully. As you breath out, picture your muscles and stomach relaxing. Do this a few times. Notice any difference? Deep and conscious breathing not only relaxes your mind but also gets more blood flowing through your body. promoting better wellbeing.
Science behind breathing for IBD
Recent studies are being conducted to explore the impact of breathing on IBD. One study showed that mind-body care, which focuses on resilience, may be a novel approach to reduce unplanned health care utilization and opioid use in patients with IBD.
In another study, the effects of a Breath-Body-Mind Workshop (breathing, movement, and meditation) were explored in relation to psychological and physical symptoms, and inflammatory markers of IBD. As a result, the group enrolled in the workshop significantly improved symptoms including psychological, physical, quality of life, and C-reactive protein which relates to inflammatory levels.
Boost breath benefits
You can tune in and boost the benefits of breathing when you combine it with another relaxation technique such as yoga, meditation, or walking.
Meditation and breathing go hand-in-hand since many times meditation is led by the breath. During meditation, it’s normal for thoughts to come up. Breathing can help decrease these distracting thoughts. Meditation and breath-work can also help manage pain. Learn more here: Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Management.
Yoga and thai chi
Yoga and thai chi blend breathing with mindful movement. These can help you tune in and manage stress. They also help ease pain associated with inflammatory conditions. In one study, researchers found that 12 weeks of yoga slowed cellular aging, reduced inflammation, and decreased the stress hormone, cortisol.
Walking and other forms of transportation are usually focused on the destination. But this simple daily task can become an easy way to get in touch and practice some mindfulness and breathing. Rather than walking on autopilot and tuning out, next time tune-in by focusing your attention on your breath, with every step you take. As a bonus, exercise helps your body release feel-good chemicals called endorphins.
Exercise can also lower stress, promote blood flow, and help decrease symptoms of IBD. Just make sure that you check in with your physician before you start and don’t overdo it. Even a quick 10-15 minute walk each day counts!
Nori Health helps
Many patients report dissatisfaction with standard therapies that they are getting. Nori Health is on a mission to help solve this. The Nori Health program is a 6-week evidence-based program aiming to help improve quality of life and decrease possible symptoms with methods including mind-body approaches and breathing exercises.
Check out the program here: Nori Health app.
This article has been written by Lisa Booth, registered dietitian and nutritionist, and co-founder of Nori Health. Content is based on her professional knowledge, and our collection of 100+ scientific research study papers.