Can IBS Affect Your Mental Health?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be difficult enough to deal with on its own, but when you add mental health struggles like depression or anxiety and IBS together it can make your life much more difficult. It’s even more stressful than normal because you don’t know which symptoms to focus on first to make life a little easier to manage. And it seems like when one flares up the other one does as well.

Can IBS Affect Your Mental Health

Unfortunately, these conditions coexist with one another and often add fuel to the fire of the other. The positive thing about that is that when you focus on healing one, you’ll often get benefits that heal the other. In this article we will cover:

  • How can IBS affect your mental health?
  • What is the gut-brain axis and how does it affect mental health?
  • IBS and mental health disorder prevalence
  • How to improve mental health and IBS symptoms

How can IBS affect your mental health?

IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder in which patients experience:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pains

Patients also report higher levels of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. While it was initially believed that the anxiety and depression came from dealing with the symptoms listed above, there is actually more to it than just that. 

It makes sense that patients would be more depressed because they can’t live a “normal” life like their family and close friends. It also makes sense that they would get anxious about having to go out in public and potentially have an IBS flare-up. 

However, while these make sense on the surface, there is a lot more at play within their bodies that researchers are now uncovering. 

In IBS, there are substantial disturbances within your gut microbiome. There is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained of the bacteria within the gut. When the balance of these bacteria becomes out of whack, we will see an increase in symptoms of every disease

When there are more of the “bad” bacteria or less of the “good”, we see an increase in inflammatory cytokines and biomarkers that promote inflammation and disease progression.

The inflammation increase has direct effects on our brains and therefore our mental health. This is where the discovery of the gut-brain axis has become extremely helpful in understanding the heightened levels of mental health disorders in patients with IBS. 

What is the gut-brain axis and how does it affect our mental health?

The gut-brain axis consists of:

  • Your gut microbes and their byproducts
  • Your vagus nerve and its communication with the brain
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis

All of these different pieces connect your gut to your brain. 

The vagus nerve is a physical connection between your brain and gut. It’s you’re 10th cranial nerve and goes all the way down to your abdomen. It controls many things but receives a lot of its stimulation from the gut microbes to let the brain know what’s going on in your stomach. 

Your gut microbes ferment foods and release byproducts like neurotransmitters, short-chain fatty acids, and other communicative products that regulate inflammation throughout your body. They allow your different body parts to ‘cross-talk.’

Your HPA axis deals with your stress response and is what typically is triggered for the fight or flight response. This response is needed to deal with external dangers meaning our bodies need to be lightweight to fight or flee and that means a quick release of the contents within our stomachs. This is why you often experience diarrhea during or right after a stressful situation. Peptides within the gut have been shown to affect the HPA axis as well.

All of these different parts connect your gut to your brain. When one is slightly off, the other will often follow. Your body is always trying to maintain homeostasis, but when one thing is in overdrive it causes a different kind of stress in your body that leads to disease. 

Learn more about The Science Behind How Your Gut Microbes Influence Your Mind and 6 Ways to Support Your Gut-Brain Connection

IBS and Mental Health Disorders

IBS can coexist with many different mental health disorders but the most common seem to be:

  • Anxiety — approximately 44%
  • Panic disorder — between 25-44%
  • Depression — approximately 84%

In IBS, brain scans show that there is a decrease in grey matter over time with increased severity of symptoms. If the symptoms aren’t controlled, your brain will have changes that can lead to an increase in mental health disorders. 

Learn more about Anxiety, Depression, and Your Gut

How to improve mental health disorders and IBS

IBS and mental health disorders coexisting can make the quality of life for most IBS patients go down. However, the fact that scientists have realized how they are interconnected it’s become more simple to improve the quality of life and reduce symptoms of both conditions at the same time!


Getting out in the fresh air clears your mind. Moving your body helps to circulate your blood and deliver fresh oxygen to your muscles while promoting good digestion. 

Walking is one of the best ways to rid your body of the additional adrenaline that can be caused by stress and anxiety. 


Yoga helps to get your brain calmed and your body moving just like walking. Though yoga can be slightly more helpful since you are guided by a teacher on when to breathe and what to focus on to help calm your mind.

Meditation and Hypnotherapy

Meditation practices have been linked to improved mental and gut health

You can also look into gut-directed hypnotherapy. It has been found to be 71% effective in most patients. 81% of patients in this study also found the effects to be long-term (years after they had received the hypnotherapy they were still experiencing positive effects). 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT has been used for both mental health improvement and IBS separately and together. Both have experienced wonderful benefits for patients. CBT provides you with techniques you can use to feel more in control of your condition while reducing the anxiousness surrounding it. 


Diet is one of the biggest factors you can change to improve your gut and mental health. Including foods that contain:

  • Polyphenols
  • Omegas
  • Proteins
  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics 

can help your body to heal itself from within. All of these products help your gut to get the bacteria balanced and produce the happy chemicals your body needs to stay happy and healthy. 

Atrantil is a product that offers your body prebiotics and postbiotics and has been proven to help your gut health. Ask your doctor if it could be right for you. (Get yours here once you get the okay!)

Living with any disorder, be it of the gut or the mind, can be exhausting and defeating. But there is no time like the present to try and get everything back on track! Just as the weather is beginning to improve and the days are getting brighter so can your health.

Let us know which of these you have tried and how they have helped you in the comments below.