Beyond Food

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Emotions and stressful life events can exacerbate the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Removing certain foods may provide significant symptom relief, however, nurturing your mental and emotional health can compliment this, providing further digestive relief and healing.

Integrating nurturing moments into your day and week that reduce the effects of stress on your body appears to influence the gut-brain-axis. Turning down the dial on stress has demonstrated significant healing effects on digestive health and general health by demonstrably changing the terrain of the gut.

Some suggestions:

  • exercise

  • a walk in green space

  • a hike in the hills

  • spending time with friends

  • reading

  • a good night’s sleep

  • a caring bedtime routine

  • a bath with essential oils

  • relax in a hammock


See my article “Gut Feelings” for more information about the intimate connection between our head brain and our digestive system brain, also known as the brain-gut-axis. This two-way conversation between our two ‘brains’ has significant implications for improving the symptoms of IBS.

Herbal Medicine and Stress

There are a wealth of herbs that are used for their relaxing effects on both the mind and the gut. Herbs such as lavender (Lavandula officinalis), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), passionflower (Passeflora incarnata), peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are useful and effective relaxants.

 Adaptogenic herbs are a special group of herbs that modify the body’s response to stress. As herbalists we use these, not to facilitate moving through life faster for longer, but to support the body during change while we pull back from ‘burnout’ or particularly stressful periods and during rehabilitation.  

 Adaptogens have a valuable place in most traditional herbal systems such as Ayurveda, Chinese Herbal Medicine and Western Herbal Medicine. The two that I use most often in my practice and find particularly effective are eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), and green oat tops (Avena sativa).

Jill Burns