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Inflammatory bowel disease

MagazineJanuary 1994 (Vol. 4 Issue 10)Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, is a much graver condition than irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, is a much graver condition than irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, both tend to be accompanied by unexplained emotional disorders, depression, panic attacks, p

There are many theories about these conditions, but a new perspective on them is given by so called "Darwinian Medicine" (R Lewin, New Scientist, 23 October 1993). According to Lewin, "twentieth century humans are Stone Agers displaced through time". On a deep psychological level, the body knows that the food it is receiving is not suitable for it. In other words, IBD is in some way part of a protective and healing reponse. Proponents of this theory believe that the unconscious part of the brain governing the body's bowel response can be reached through hypnotherapy.

Because the link between emotional and gastrointestinal problems is so well established, hypnotherapy is often used to treat both kinds of symptoms.

Psychotherapists have consistently reported an impressive success rate, but this has largely been ignored outside their own circles.

In the October 1993 issue of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, E E Taylor et al published a well designed study to determine whether psychological intervention can reduce both the physical and emotional problems associated with IBD. Participants were recruited from general hospitals into a 20 week programme consisting of relaxation hypnosis, cognitive therapy in tutorials, and hypnosis directed specifically at the gut.

The results showed that 90 per cent of subjects experienced a highly significant reduction in emotional symptoms, and 65 per cent reported a reduction in physical symptoms.

Gut directed hypnosis was most effective in relieving physical symptoms, while cognitive therapy was more effective in relieving emotional ones.

The published data strongly suggest that, regardless of the site, duration and severity of the disease, hypnotherapy (including auto hypnosis) can be effective for IBD sufferers and that it is certainly a safer first port of call than steroid treatment, with its well documented side effects.

Other research (Annals Int Med, 1985, 103: 291-293, and The Lancet 1983, ii: 589-92) found that biofeedback which measures changes in skin resistance and brain waves and psychotherapy, including hypnotherapy, enhanced the results of conservative treatment of IBS.

It goes without saying that none of these therapies should be initiated without the help of a practitioner who is adequately trained and experienced in the treatment of IBD.

Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath and homoeopath.

Childhood colitis

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