Mindfulness Meditation and IBS

By Mary-Joan Gerson, Ph.D.

Psychological interventions have proved to be successful treatments for IBS, by reducing both bowel symptoms and associated psychological symptoms and are often more effective than usual medical care. Psychological treatments may work, at least in part, by helping to regulate mind-body interactions. Recently, a study of “mindfulness,” a mind-calming Buddhist practice founded over 2500 years ago, was shown to help improve the lives of women suffering from IBS.

Mindfulness technique involves learning to pay attention to the present moment in a nonjudgmental way, acknowledging, accepting, and releasing each thought, feeling, and sensation related to stress or pain. In IBS patients, mindfulness can help pain management by reducing a heightened perception of pain and by reducing the anxiety associated with bodily sensations.

In this study, 75 female IBS patients were assigned to 8 weeks of either mindfulness training, or a support group. The sessions were held once a week for two hours. Participants in the meditation group were taught to distinguish abdominal sensation from thoughts about the sensation. They showed greater symptom reduction than the support group immediately after completion of training and even more so 3 months later.. In addition to abdominal pain, quality of life, psychological distress, and anxiety also improved.

Mindfulness-based stress and pain management programs have been adapted for a wide range of health conditions. At the MBDC, we endorse this treatment and often recommend it as part of our comprehensive mind-body approach to the treatment of IBS patients.