Medically reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD, PhD
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional gut-brain condition. Due to the altered gut-brain connection, the connection between the gut and the brain is off. This explains why stress may cause changes in the stomach.
It affects gut speed and causes gut hypersensitivity, resulting in unpleasant gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. Bloating, gas, discomfort, constipation, and diarrhea are a few symptoms of IBS. IBS is diagnosed based on symptoms after ruling out other disorders.
Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by not eating for fear of weight gain, purging by vomiting, using laxatives, irregular food habits, and obsessive exercise. This behavior might lead to intestinal sensitivities leading to IBS.
According to a study, more than 50 percent of people with eating disorders have IBS. The study titled “Psychological features are important predictors of functional gastrointestinal disorders in patients with eating disorders” was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology in July 2004.
Another research found that 5-45 percent of patients with gastrointestinal problems like IBS had an eating disorder. This study titled “Disordered eating practices in gastrointestinal disorders” was published in Appetite journal, volume 84, January 2015.
Can Anorexia Cause IBS?
Chronic stress, poor diet, interrupted sleep habits, sensitive gut nerves, and family history are possible causes of IBS. IBS symptoms appear and disappear over time, lasting days, weeks, or months.
People with eating disorders have gastrointestinal effects, according to a study. IBS frequently develops following the onset of an eating disorder. The study titled “ Eating Disorders and Gastrointestinal Diseases” was published in Nutrients Journal in December 2019.
Considering the connection between the gut and the brain, it’s no surprise that a mental disorder like anorexia has the potential to cause IBS. The following are a few explanatory points on the correlation between Anorexia and IBS.
The Axis Between Gut and Brain
The gut-brain axis plays a role in the connection between IBS and eating disorders, including anorexia. The link between the brain and the digestive system can lead to a vicious cycle in which gastrointestinal symptoms trigger by worry and food-related stress, which worsens the symptoms.
The study titled “Irritable bowel syndrome: A microbiome-gut-brain axis disorder” was published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in October 2014. This study showed biological mechanisms of the brain influence gut microflora and cause IBS.
Eating disorder behaviors related to a dread of IBS symptoms may appear like:
- Avoiding food consumption
- Entire food group restrictions like carbs or probiotics
- Eating-related stress and anxiety
The Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiomes are an ecosystem of good and bad bacteria. It gets affected by the elimination of probiotics and carbohydrates from the diet. It occurs because foods rich in probiotics and prebiotics favorable to the gut flora are restricted in eating disorders.
Alterations in the gut microbiota contribute to eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, according to research. The study titled ” Gut feelings: A role for the intestinal microbiota in anorexia nervosa” was published in the International Journal of eating disorders in January 2015.
- Food Restriction
A study titled “Might Starvation-Induced Adaptations in Muscle Mass, Muscle Morphology and Muscle Function Contribute to the Increased Urge for Movement and to Spontaneous Physical Activity in Anorexia Nervosa?” was published in Nutrients in July 2020. The research showed muscles and nerves of the intestine were affected in prolonged starved subjects.
Food restriction over an extended period can have serious medical repercussions, including the atrophy or weakening of the digestive muscles. It can produce slow emptying of the stomach, termed gastroparesis. Gastroparesis causes constipation, bloating, distention, and abdominal pain.
As previously stated, eliminating foods containing prebiotics and probiotics can negatively impact the gut microbiome. This is true in the stringent low-carbohydrate diets seen in anorexia patients. Fibre-rich carbohydrate diets are essential for managing existing IBS symptoms and preventing new symptoms.
Malnutrition, nutritional inadequacy, and alternating between binge and self-induced vomiting are associated with IBS symptoms and gut dysfunction in patients with anorexia. Anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive characteristics in eating disorders, can exacerbate the severity of symptoms, leading to long-term IBS.
A study titled “Gastrointestinal complications associated with anorexia nervosa: A systematic review” was published in the International Journal of eating disorders in September 2015. This research has found that gastroparesis can dramatically extend the duration of an eating disorder and the severity of malnutrition.
- Self-induced purging
Self-induced vomiting is a behavior in anorexia disorder that can cause several problems. Vomiting regularly can cause digestive disorders like gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) and oesophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus). Pain, gas, nausea, and vomiting are all signs of these gut disorders.
Another way of purging is laxatives. Long-term use can damage the nerves and muscles of the gut. This results in worsening symptoms of IBS. Finally, vigorous activity is used to compensate for calories consumed, but it can produce nausea and diarrhea. If you are a runner, you have probably experienced this phenomenon.
- Irregular eating
Gas, bloating, and diarrhea are due to irregular eating habits and the ingestion of unusual amounts of food. It can be eating too little or too large a quantity of food. These patterns cause reduced stomach motility, increased gastric capacity, and delayed gastric emptying. A period of restriction followed by a bingeing event might raise the risk of acute gastric dilatation (severe abdominal distension). Nausea and vomiting, bloating, and stomach discomfort are the symptoms of gastric dilatation.
Your relationship with food has a wide range of effects on your health. Restoring that intuitive relationship between food and your body is the solution. It stands true for IBS and anorexia too.
IBS symptoms can be relieved by eating a well-balanced diet, regaining a healthy weight, and eating at appropriate intervals. It makes the recovery process easier in people with anorexia.
De-stress your life by making healthy dietary choices. Diet and psychological therapy is a unique collaboration that helps with IBS due to eating disorders, including anorexia.
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Casper, R. C. (2020). Might starvation-induced adaptations in muscle mass, muscle morphology, and muscle function contribute to the increased urge for movement and to spontaneous physical activity in anorexia nervosa? Nutrients, 12(7), 2060. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu1207206
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