This is your brain on IBS

Your IBS may show up on a brain scan!

X-ray picture of a person's brain and bowels connected.

More studies that show there is a connection between the brain and IBS.
© Can Stock Photo

For as long as I can remember, I’ve read that irritable bowel syndrome has no organic cause. I argued on one of the pages around here, that this was impossible. There had to be some kind of change or things would, be the same. I.e, no IBS.

It turns out that science may have been looking in the wrong place.

A study finds changes in brain structures.

That’s right, they’ve actually found changes in the brains of people with IBS symptoms.

Different parts of your brain do different jobs. The study names the different parts, but I’m going to spare you the long latin names I can’t pronounce. If you want that see the links below.

In short here’s what researchers found:

They did a brain scan on people with IBS and people without IBS.

For people with IBS, some parts of the brain were smaller or larger than people without IBS.

The part of the brain that receives information from the bowels was affected. So were the parts that regulate pain.

The parts of the brain that control pain were “thinned”, meaning there was less brain tissue than expected/normal.

Some parts of the brain that deal with emotions were also affected.

What this means to you:

The part of your brain that talks to your bowels has probably changed. You’re probably getting more and louder pain signals from your bowels.

Next, the parts of your brain that fight off pain are probably smaller than they should be. That may leave you with less ability to cope with the increased signals coming from your bowels.

You may have trouble with emotions, anxieties, and depression due to changes in gray matter that deal with emotion control.

So there is real evidence of IBS?

Yes there is.

After dealing with amazing amounts of pain, and other IBS symptoms, many people are sent to a psychiatrist.

We’ve been told there is no evidence of damage, and sometimes had the issue swept under the rug.

Many of us IBS sufferers have been told it’s “all in our heads”.

Well maybe it is after all. But it’s in the structure of our brains.

What other kinds of pain do you have?

Different discussions of the study suggest that, with less brain tissue in the pain control areas, people may have other kinds of unexplained pain besides IBS pain.

In fact the same kind of pain center changes have been found in people with hip pain, back pain, migraines, and certain kinds of jaw pain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many IBS sufferers have other kinds of chronic pains as well.

So how did we get IBS in the first place?

This is something that mystifies me. Here’s why:

Many people get IBS after having an attack of the “stomach flu” (gastroenteritis).

Others get IBS after getting a common parasite called giardia.

How are these type of events changing the brain???

Is it that bowel pains, etc., change the brain, leading to more bowel pains?

I guess we’ll have to wait for science to figure that out.

Thanks from this IBS sufferer to the people at UCLA, and Canada’s McGill University, that ran the study

If you have any ideas on this or anything else you want to say, please use the comments section below



  1. Reply

    Wyoud you direct me to the study done by McGill University: “Gut/Brain Connection”.
    You are a gift to me on this hot NM Saturday morning.
    I have had bowel impactions to the point of completely losing my mind…no memories. So sick. I had colostomy surgery done Jan 13. I went from chronic constipation to chronic diarrhea. This is quite distressing (so understated). I never know when I will be “filling my shoes”.
    I have slow motility and a non functioning pelvic floor. Prior to colorectal cancer/surgery and chemotherapy, I never can “bowel function” a moments thought.
    Dehydration (drinking water, water, water does not cure this issue).
    Anger/depression/foggy brain. This is not the person I am or want to be associated with.
    Next stop? Mayo Clinic. My greatest fear? Ileostomy. I can barely cope with a colostomy.
    I have ‘lost myself’. Like anyone with any disorder/disease, we want to understand how everything is connected and how to cope better and to find the best solution we can to have quality of life. Medical science is not exact. I have been treated with the upmost care and respect. Thank you for your blog. As I said, It is truly a gift. kathryn

    • Reply

      Hello Kathryn, Please try this link about the brain and gut connection. I think it might have what you’re looking for.

      • Reply

        I am so sorry to hear these three years on that you were suffering so much. I have been in that Darkness, and have to fight every day to convince what’s left of my self that there ever was and ever will be light in my life again. Some recent research has directly linked the microbiome of the gut to the condition of the brain – even to the point of suggesting that the shift in the immune system that allows rogue T-cells to pass the Blood-Brain Barrier and cause such diseases as Multiple Sclerosis is due to an off-balance microbiome – causing either IBS-D or C, both of which deteriorate the lining of the intestinal walls, leading to the creation of “larger-than-micro-sized-holes,” that normally would only be big enough to allow nutrients and water thru. But becuase of the damage, larger holes are created leading to Leaky Gut Syndrome, which allows unprocessed, diseased and very-bad for you particles to pass from the gut into the bloodstream and through out our metabolism, causing all kinds of problems that make us feel like we’re dying… or make us wish we were. I truely hope you found some relief since your post. I have just recently found the almost immediate benefits of purified yet high alkaline with proper micro-nutrients (typically have to be added back). Look for the light.

  2. Reply

    They don’t call it “practicing medicine” for nothing. My brother is a M.D. and they are only taught conventional medicine form a pharma perspective. They mean well, but it’s all they know at the moment. I really try to attack any health problem from a natural perspective and rely on conventional when the natural doesn’t work. Most times the natural does work, so thankfully I’ve only had to use Pharma rarely.
    They use to say that PMS was all in the head too, until oh my goodness they finally admitted it’s hormonal.
    I’m so thankful I never had PMS, but IBS is definitely not a psychological problem. It can certainly cause anxiety if you let it, but it didn’t start there. For women, certain times of the month cause the problem to worsen. Hmmmm, could there be a connection? I think that so much of the Psycho babble out there is just that, Psycho Babble! If you look to God for your answers, you’ll do well. Think of only good things. (We do have a choice on what conversations we have in our head) Do your thoughts control you or do you control your thoughts? I won’t make this a soapbox, however I had to comment that a psychological problem doesn’t cause IBS!

    • Reply

      Thanks for another great comment Sally. I appreciate your opinions on this. I can’t speak about PMS :), but I can certainly appreciate what you’re saying here, and I like your advice. I’ve been staying more positive lately and it has made a BIG difference! All the best. Shawn

    • Reply

      It is definitely a psychological condition. I have IBS. It only gets bad during periods of depression and anxiety. When I feel happy it goes away. Food does not affect it at all for me. The answers almost certainly are found in spirituality, including meditation and mindfulness and belief in a connected consciousness and higher power/God. Mental health is tied to spiritual health. So you are completely wrong in your unsubstantiated opinion that a psychological problem doesn’t cause IBS. I won’t make this a soapbox, however, I had to comment that for many/most people, psychological problems are the root cause of IBS and other chronic conditions.

  3. Reply

    Hey Shawn,
    First of all, congrats for your excellent website.
    Actually, a very recent study seems to demonstrate that people suffering from IBS had a traumatic experience during their childhood. I guess this sort of thing may have an influence on the brain’s structure.

    Greets from Germany!

    • Reply

      Greetings to you as well, Guillaume!

      Thanks for the kind words.

      I see you also have a great site about IBS. Nicely done!

      I saw the articles about the trauma, but haven’t read about it yet. Thanks for the reminder.

      Good luck on your quest!


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