Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Anxiety

Even with years of research, the causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) remain elusive. However, that doesn’t mean that doctors aren’t continuing to learn more and more about this condition.

Strange Bedfellows

A recent report, authored by an international team of researchers, has found that IBS and anxiety might be triggered by similar factors. The team came to this conclusion after reviewing data from over 40,000 people with a history of this condition. In addition, they also reviewed data from nearly 13,000 participants from the Bellygenes initiative, a global ongoing study focused on the genetic origins of IBS.

These groups of individuals were compared against roughly 433,000 control subjects, none of whom had any history of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. As if that wasn’t enough people, this team repeated this entire process a second time, using information provided by the genomics company 23andMe Inc. to compare the genetics of approximately 205,000 IBS sufferers with nearly 1.4 million control subjects. All of these individuals had granted their permission for their data to be used in scientific research.

It’s In the Genes?

So what did all these mounds of information reveal? For starters, the team found that your genes play a relatively small role in determining your IBS risk. Instead, a person’s chances of developing this digestive condition was largely impacted by diet, stress and certain behavioral patterns.

However, this doesn’t mean that genes have no say in our digestive health. In fact, subjects IBS had six specific genetic differences which were far less common in the control groups. Likewise, the study also noted that participants with this type of genetic profile were more likely to experience anxiety, depression, neuroticism and other types of mental health problems.

Professor Miles Parkes, University of Cambridge faculty member and one of the study’s co-authors, provided this insight regarding his team’s work: “IBS is a common problem, and its symptoms are real and debilitating. Although IBS occurs more frequently in those who are prone to anxiety, we don’t believe that one causes the other – our study shows these conditions have shared genetic origins, with the affected genes possibly leading to physical changes in brain or nerve cells that in turn cause symptoms in the brain and symptoms in the gut.”

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