Here's a promising article about how the Relaxation Response (mindfulness) was recently studied to reduce gastrointestinal (GI) disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A lot of anxiety sufferers experience a great deal of gastrointestinal upset. It's perfectly normal. The hormones our bodies release when they are under great stress (anxiety), can cause our intestines to become inflamed or irritated, causing intestinal cramping, diarrhea, etc. Of course, all that GI fun can often just make anxious folk more stressed and create a wonderfully uncomfortable cycle.
A recent study at Mass General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston was conducted to see if the Relaxation Response, a mindfulness-related concept developed by Dr. Herbert Benson more than 40 years ago, had any impact on the symptoms and/or underlying genetics of IBS. Roughly half of the participants conducted mindfulness exercises like meditation and yoga for a period of 10 weeks. Researchers found that GI symptoms were significantly reduced in those participants, even at three weeks after the program had ended.
Perhaps even more interesting was the study's finding that the mindfulness exercises had also changed the hormones that are responsible for expressing genes which contribute to IBS. This idea that since while we can't change our DNA, we can change the hormones that express our DNA is a very new field of science called epigenetics. The relationship between epigenetics and anxiety is just now beginning to be studied. I will surely be writing about that work in the near future. In the meantime, if you are suffering from anxiety-related GI discomfort, I urge you to practice mindfulness - it may just help.