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Anxiety & Digestion - What's the Connection?

Anxiety & Digestion - What's the Connection?

My name is Julie Richard (you can read my article about the link between the body and emotions here) and I am an osteopath DO. I deeply believe that it is by understanding oneself that one can best help oneself to be well; and ultimately get out of the unhealthy circle in which we are caught.

Here we are, in the heart of the beast… In the vicious circle between anxiety and digestion. Where pain lingers, where injury leads to injury and brings inflammation with it.

I present to you today the results of my research, explaining them to you as clearly as possible, by verbalizing everything so that this reading will help as many as possible!


A two-way link

It was gastroenterology research that demonstrated the link between anxiety and digestive disorders, and that this link works both ways. As it seems that chronic inflammation is involved, let's talk about it! Inflammation, basically, is a protective reaction of the body, it serves to prevent invaders from taking all the space and to rebuild damaged tissues. This is a good thing. It's just that inflammation has aspects that involve the whole body and when it becomes chronic, you see significant negative impacts. This is what is happening here.


Digestive inflammation and mental health

The people targeted by the study I did had GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and digestive disorders. Inflammation had a direct implication in their lives because if the lining of their digestive tract is damaged by inflammation, it lets more toxins and infectious agents into the body. They end up in the blood, circulate everywhere and can bring inflammation to the brain.

In the other direction, a person affected by GAD is not well. His cortex can then send nervous and hormonal messages that are not well adapted. These erroneous messages will encourage inflammation all the way to the digestive system.

The dysfunctional side therefore works both ways: it is the inflammatory vicious circle of people living with GAD and a digestive disorder.


Experimental research

In osteopathy, it is possible to treat the space and the tissues that surround the digestive system to give it back some freedom of movement. It allows him to receive what he needs and send positive messages to the rest of the body. So we have a catch to help... 

Would it be possible to use osteopathic techniques aimed at mobility of the stomach, small intestine, and colon to reduce anxiety symptoms in people with these two problems?

To verify this, I treated 36 adults with digestive disorders and anxiety disorders. The chain of treatments was separated into three different treatments at two-week intervals each. In all, people were treated for mobility in the stomach, small intestine, colic angles, transverse mesocolon, colon, and sigmoid colon. The state of anxiety was assessed using questionnaires just before and after these treatments, which made it possible to know how effective they were in a targeted manner.


Convincing results

The difference in score obtained between the questionnaires before and after the treatments was analyzed. The results demonstrated a significant decrease in anxiety, and this for the two evaluation questionnaires that were used. In both cases, the final score brought the participants closer to the threshold where we start not talking about GAD anymore; the group mean even left the anxious zone for one of the two questionnaires.

I also did a qualitative analysis: knowing in what kind of people the treatments created the most improvement allows us to know in which population to recommend it. The quantitative analysis made it possible to target that the people who reacted best to the treatment were women aged 30 and over, with no medical diagnosis related to their digestive disorders (therefore nothing was found to explain their pain ).

Why It Works: Target Organs

And this is where it becomes interesting to fully understand how the treatment works. Among other things because the three organs targeted for this research can be directly linked to mental health.

First the stomach. When an individual has an anxiety attack, it increases his production of a hormone - corticoliberine - by the brain, but this hormone is sometimes also produced by the gastrointestinal cells and it produces the same effect regardless of where it comes from, i.e. nausea or vomiting. Psychological stress can even have an impact on the constitution of unhealthy tissues in the stomach, since it leads to changes - nervous, motor, sensory systems, secretions, immune functions - which change the digestive wall. The chances of developing ulcers have also been shown to increase with the severity of anxiety symptoms. Finally, an accumulation of digestive gases in the stomach - by the fermentation of carbohydrates for example - can put pressure on the heart and the nerves of the diaphragm, which can cause dizziness, palpitations, but also anxiety.

The small intestine now. Let's start by saying that duodenal ulcers (therefore at the beginning of the small intestine) also increase more and more with the severity of the symptoms of anxiety. It should also be mentioned that 90% of serotonin is produced by cells found in the wall of the small intestine and the colon, serotonin having a great impact on mental well-being. The lining of the intestine must be tight, but the cortisol that is created when a person experiences anxiety decreases the secretion of what serves to protect the intestinal lining against toxins and infectious agents. It therefore becomes more fragile and can create unsuitable immune reactions - such as ulcerative colitis for example -.

Finally the colon. Abdominal inflammation exaggeratedly increases the information of the neurons that leave the colon, the brain then receives too many and exaggerated messages, which can result in abdominal discomfort and anxious or depressive behaviors. The colon must work quietly to reabsorb liquids which are made up of water, electrolytes and vitamins produced by the microbiota. When fear arises, the brain can disrupt the rhythm of the colon, which no longer has enough time to do its job. A brief parenthesis on the microbiota: we also know that the different types of populations that make up the microbiota constantly change in their percentage and that this is influenced by their intestinal environment. Manual treatment of the colon could therefore possibly change the balance of microbiological populations. This is key if this is the case, because the microbiota can influence neurological development, brain chemistry and plasticity, pain perception, and how the system responds to stress.


Why it works: Symptoms reduced 

I also analyzed the answers of the questionnaires concerning the symptoms, those which stood out more (which decreased by at least two points) allow us to better understand what happened during the osteopathy treatments.

Inability to relax decreased in 50% of participants. Fear that the worst will happen, among 44% of participants. The decrease in these two symptoms is directly related to mental health. It confirms the interrelation between the two systems and that osteopathic treatments have helped. It must be understood that the messages arriving through the nervous system of the digestive system arrive in the brain in specific areas. They are known in neuroscience to be responsible for the perception of "me", the management of feelings, morality and fear. It is therefore the way in which the digestive system expresses itself to the brain to say that it is not well.

Marked or rapid heartbeats, decreased in 59% of the highly conclusive cases, but did not stand out as much in the group as a whole, and even in none of the inconclusive cases. The decrease in this symptom is therefore a particularity of people for whom osteopathy treatments have had an effect. When there is stress, the nervous system activates the orthosympathetic nervous system – used to flee or fight – which speeds up cardiac output, which increases blood pressure. Then the stress hormones make the blood vessels more sensitive to the hormones that cause vasoconstriction (tighten the vessels), which increases the pressure. With osteopathy treatments, the body has therefore regained its ability to return to normal after a stressful situation, instead of remaining in "emergency" mode.

Dizziness or lightheadedness, disorientation decreased for 36% of participants. Osteopathic treatments, by reducing tension in the abdomen, have been able to free the environment from the vagus nerve which makes the direct link between the brain and the digestive system. The hypersensitivity of the vagus nerve brings the signs of an onset of vagal discomfort, including dizziness, so this has been reduced by the treatments.

Difficult breathing decreased in 33% of participants. The techniques used targeted attachments between the organs and the diaphragm. By increasing the mobility of the diaphragm, we bring about better breathing and better management of the pressures between the abdomen and the thorax. In addition, the treatments may have had an impact on the autonomic nervous system - stress vs. rest - which also manages the respiratory rate.


Importance of caring for the body as a whole

Well-done research serves to isolate a single variable: all of these effects appeared only by improving the mobility of the stomach, small intestine and colon. But each person is different! And osteopathy can do much more to help reduce the symptoms of GAD. But what emerges from this research is that a digestive system in pain cannot be ignored when someone has GAD. The health system tends to treat them as two separate problems, but the two problems are linked, the two talk together... So imagine the impact of personalized treatment to help people living with GAD, including also the digestive system when necessary. That's the beauty of my work, every day...

Please share this text with those you know who have TAG and digestive disorders. For complete information, references, and bibliography, you can refer to the complete research available free of charge here: *** https://www.julierichardosteo.com/a-propos/ ***.


Looking forward to helping you!

Julie Richard, osteopath DO


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Our collaborator Julie Richard

Julie Richard is an osteopath DO. Her research thesis focused on the link between mental health and the digestive system. She looked at how body and mind interact with each other. How the person feels, how they perceive their pain... She suggests using this interaction to support the improvement of the person's health and well-being.

She treats general and global osteopathy, but specializes in mental health, digestive health and palliative care. She holds diplomas in somatherapy, fasciology, deep tissues, cranial therapy and osteopathy.

Julie Richard offers you a very special osteopathic approach, consistent with her values ​​of empowerment. She is also a psychosociologist and she has used her intervention skills in the field, in team coordination, in consultation and in public health. She now integrates her knowledge and experience of psychosocial intervention into her osteopathic work.

You can easily reach her through her website https://www.julierichardosteo.com/ or 514-812-3822.