There's a shroud of shame surrounding "bathroom business," which can make it tough to talk about issues like gastrointestinal distress and diseases. But it shouldn't be that way. Problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are a part of life for millions of people. These ailments can affect various aspects of a person's day-to-day life and may last for a short time or several years.
The good news is CBD might provide a solution. Here's what you should know about these gastrointestinal issues and how CBD can help.
What Is IBS/IBD?
IBS and IBD are often used interchangeably, but they're distinct disorders while they share some symptoms in common.
IBS affects the lower gastrointestinal area, including the small and large intestines and the colon. According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, up to 15 percent of the world's population experience IBS symptoms. According to Cedars-Sinai, IBS affects about 25% of Americans.
According to Healthline, IBS is a non-inflammatory condition, while IBD is a broad term referring to chronic intestinal inflammation. People with IBD may also exhibit IBS symptoms.
Symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal Pain & Cramps
- Chronic Diarrhea
- Urgent Bowel Movements
IBD encompasses several inflammatory diseases, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
People with IBD may experience the above symptoms as well as:
- Intestinal Scarring
- Rectal Bleeding
- Joint Pain
- Weight Loss
- Eye Inflammation
What Causes IBS & IBD
We don't yet know what causes IBS. But, according to Mayo Clinic, researchers have identified a few factors that may be at play. These include:
- Abnormalities in the digestive system's nerves and poor coordination between the brain and intestines, causing an overreaction to regular changes in the digestion process.
- Abnormally strong or long-lasting muscle contractions in the intestine.
- Intestinal inflammation.
- Severe infection, which may be caused by a bacteria or virus, or bacterial overgrowth.
- Changes in microflora (gut bacteria).
We also know IBS, like most ailments, is usually exacerbated by stress. Hormones can also factor in. IBS is about twice as common in women and usually gets worse during menstruation. While food allergies and intolerances don't cause IBS, many people find eating certain foods can make symptoms worse.
IBD is more severe but, unfortunately, not much better understood. According to Mayo Clinic, doctors used to think diet and stress could cause IBD but now know these are triggers, not causes. Researchers now think a malfunctioning immune system may have something to do with it. Specifically, the immune system in people with IBD may attack the digestive tract cells while trying to fight off illnesses. While scientists haven't identified a specific gene that causes IBD, it does appear to run in families.
Medications, including intestinal antispasmodics like Levsin (hyoscyamine) and Bentyl (dicyclomine), can help people with IBS. But lifestyle changes tend to help the most, according to Healthline. Cutting out (or at least cutting down on) fried, fatty foods and caffeinated beverages can significantly reduce stress with practices like yoga, meditation, and regular exercise. Counseling can also help if stress is a major trigger.
With IBD, treatment is mostly focused on reducing and preventing inflammation. Whether it's in your intestines, brain, or other areas of the body, inflammation can cause significant damage over time.
The particulars of treatment will depend on the type of IBD and its severity. To diagnose IBD, a doctor will likely perform a physical exam, test samples, and perform endoscopic exams or use MRI or CT scans to get a closer look at the issue. Patients with IBD might need antibiotics or antidiarrheal drugs. Lifestyle changes, especially reducing stress and eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet, can help too. In severe cases, surgery might be necessary.
How CBD Can Help
The body's endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex network of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes responsible for various processes and functions, including immune system function, stress and anxiety, and digestion. You can learn more about that here. Within the digestive tract, the ECS plays a role in digestion speed as well as pain sensations. Various elements of the ECS can be linked to IBS symptoms, including low levels of the endocannabinoid palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), which is linked to IBS cramps.
CBD works in the body by interacting with the ECS to stimulate endocannabinoid production and help it to work more efficiently and effectively. In people with IBS symptoms, CBD may help relieve symptoms by improving the ECS overall.
The brain and body are inextricably entwined. When something goes wrong in one, it's bound to affect the other. This is why stress can wreak havoc on the body like a Monster Truck in a demolition derby. As we know, in people with IBS and IBD, stress may either cause or exacerbate symptoms. CBD is useful for many things, but two of its fortes are reducing stress and inflammation. In people with IBS and IBD, stress can cause the vagus nerve to overexpress acetylcholine. This can cause food to go too quickly through the GI tract, resulting in flare-ups.
In the same way that CBD affects ECS balance to reduce pain and cramps, it can help the body mitigate stress better without losing its cool or digesting food too quickly.
Inflammation is an immune system response that, in people with IBS symptoms, might occur as a response to triggers like food allergies, prior infections, stress, and intestinal permeability. CBD is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce intestinal inflammation, thus reducing symptoms.
Address Gut Microbiome Dysbiosis
Remember what we said about the brain-body connection? A mounting body of evidence suggests the gut has a similarly wide-reaching effect on the rest of the body, just like the brain. There's a microbiome in your gut, kind of like a garden of (mostly) beneficial bacteria that help us digest food and reap nutrients. When the microbiome is hydrated and nourished, all is well. But when things get off-kilter (think of a dog digging up your flowers in pursuit of a bone), it can spell big trouble.
The bacteria in our microbiome affect our health in multiple ways, so it makes sense that people with IBS typically have different microbiomes (dysbiosis) compared to people with healthy guts. Specifically, people with IBS tend to have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
Mostly, dietary changes (such as eating probiotics) help restore microbiome balance. But CBD might help too. This is because CBD influences the immune system, which, as you may have guessed, is closely linked to the microbiome.
We're still learning about IBS, IBD, their causes, and how to prevent and treat them. Likewise, we've still got a lot to learn about CBD and how we can use it to alleviate symptoms of these and other ailments. But preliminary evidence suggests CBD might be a valuable tool in your IBS or IBD-fighting toolkit. Just be sure to talk with your doctor first before making any changes, including altering your diet or incorporating supplements.