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Gut-directed Hypnotherapy

Woman happy hypnosis gut

Gut-directed Hypnotherapy

Advances in our understanding of the nature of functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) have continued to advance beautifully. That is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, all that understanding hasn’t yet effectively translated into what sufferers of FGID’s (IBS, dyspepsia, globus, aerophagia, and more) can do to feel and function better. Studies clearly show that more than 25% of people suffering with FGIDs and who find a treatment that helps will find that the help is only temporary. All too often, people find themselves right back where they started within a matter of weeks or months, except that they feel more frustrated, disillusioned, or despairing. There must be a better way, right?

The Proven Alternative

Happily, there is a proven alternative for relief from the

     • pain
     • bloating
     • dietary struggles
     • social inconveniences
     • negative symptom stigma
     • and chronic worry
that so many sufferers of FGIDs experience. After FODMAP diets, gluten restrictions, and dietary supplements of all stripes have done what they can do, FGIDs can continue to pose major obstacles to the re-establishment of healthy functioning and enjoyable daily living. Therefore, it is so important to recognize a major missing piece of the proverbial treatment pie.
The digestive tract is the most ancient of the organ systems we have. Our GI system is older than our brain in evolutionary terms. Long ago, the GI system developed right along with the various bacteria and other microbiota living on the planet. Gradually, the early GI system developed the ability to move and primitive organisms grew a brain to coordinate all that movement that was necessary to capture food or to escape from being eaten.
Still later, the GI tract, the brain, and the muscle/skeletal systems that emerged and that allowed us to move also developed the ability to feel and to think. Today, we call that sensing, feeling, thinking system THE MIND. Failure to include THE MIND in the effective control of FGIDs is an inexcusable oversight.
There are many ways of including the mind in treatment protocols. I commonly see people advocating involvement in meditation and yoga. Both are wonderful mind-body practices. However, the strongest scientific research shows that the largest and longest lasting benefit for FGID sufferers comes from obtaining treatment including clinical hypnosis as well as learning how to do self-hypnosis.

How Does Hypnosis Work?

Brain imaging studies, blood workups, electrophysiologic measurements, and other forms of research protocols have established how hypnotic absorption involves shifts in various “states” of mind-body activity. Greater activation of the vagal nervous system can produce a powerful quieting of the state of bodily alarm that is a hallmark of FGIDs. Moreover, when the vagus nerve system is humming along well, digestive functioning improves dramatically. In turn, using hypnosis to activate the vagus system results in changes to the microbiome involving more optimal bacterial balance (right amount of “good” bacteria and much less of the “bad” bacteria, as well as mind-body-wide benefits such as less reactive immune system functioning (less runaway inflammation), better sleep patterns, clearer thinking, and reductions in worry/anxiety, as well as improvements in energy.
Does this sound too good to be true? A very recent article published in the American Journal of Medicine (July 2020) aimed at primary care physicians and entitled, Hypnosis: The Most Effective Treatment You Have Yet to Prescribe, argued that if hypnosis were a drug and produced the kinds of results it does for many people, it would be considered the standard for of care and treatment.

What to Do?

If you are interested in learning more about clinical hypnosis, look up “gut-directed hypnotherapy” and find well-trained health professionals in your area. Don’t be fooled by the false promises touted by poorly trained individuals who are not professionally licensed clinicians practicing as accredited health professionals overseen by State Licensing Boards. In the right hands, working with a health professional trained in gut-directed hypnotherapy can be remarkably beneficial. Alternatively, you can reach out to me at drdavidalter.com or ibsreliefnow.com with your questions. I will either respond to you directly or, if the volume of responders is just too high, I will collate and categorize the concerns, and then respond to them in a future blog or vlog.

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Essen Oder Fressen: A Helpful Practice for Digestive Relief

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Essen Oder Fressen: A Helpful Practice for Digestive Relief

Grandmotherly Memories

Growing up, I recall wonderful times sitting at my grandmother’s table. She would not be sitting, of course. She was instead too busily engaged in shuttling from the table to the kitchen and back again, hovering and then bringing other foods to assure that regardless of how much I ate, there would be still more that was served. Apparently, anything less than a continuously overflowing plate violated some timeless grandmotherly ethic.

Along with a full plate came the requirement that my belly reach absolute fullness. She would work toward that goal by repeatedly saying, “Ess mein kind, ess.” (Eat, my child, eat). There was always more to be served and my role at the table was to continuously “ess,” to eat. I typically indulged her, sometimes to the detriment of what my stomach could comfortably hold.

Later I learned that German has two words for eating. Essen is what people do. Fressen is what animals do. Fressen implies gorging or eating with a ravenous and urgent appetite unbecoming to a “civilized” person. While I was encouraged to “ess, mein kind, ess” there was a clear line between that gastronomic indulgence and ill-mannered fressen.  I’ll get to how that relates to digestive wellness in a moment.

Developing Simple Strategies in a Sea of Complexity

The memories of times at my grandmother’s table come to mind as I think about people who struggle with digestive disorders. We are flooded with information about what supplements to use, whether gluten sensitivity is the source of those struggles, how to adhere to a low FODMAP diet, why bacterial imbalances are the root cause of our anguish and why upping or adjusting our prebiotic and probiotic intake is necessary. When it comes to this flood of information, we are encouraged, like my grandmother did with me, to “ess, mein kind, ess”: to digest all this abundance of health information despite the fact that much of it is contradictory and finding out what is right for any one of us is a continuing challenge: what helps one person one week can hurt that same person the next and what seems good to eat in November doesn’t seem to sit as well in July.

I don’t dismiss or discount the importance of this digestive health information. It can be helpful, and we are learning more about food/gut interactions all the time. My concern is that we often overlook practices that are universally helpful all the time in favor of over-emphasizing unusual, narrow, and overly specific solutions that too often fail to fulfill their promise for far too many people. As the saying goes, “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses not zebras.” In other words, at times it is useful to focus on what is most likely to help most often for the most people instead of what is the unusual or rare solution.

Are You an Esser or a Fresser?

If we step back from what we should eat and ask ourselves how to eat, the “esser/fresser” distinction becomes relevant. Here is what I mean. Our digestive system operates best when our mind and brain are in a settled and comfortable state. Digestion is energy intensive, so any unnecessary agitation, worry, arousal, or distress sucks precious bodily energy away from digesting and into supporting our readiness to act to address the source of the distress. Skeletal muscles get nutrient-rich blood, while the majority of that blood is shunted away from the smooth muscles of our digestive tract. When we are rushed and pressured or overly worried while we eat, we are literally, partially turning off our digestive system. At best we will digest what we eat less efficiently. At worst, the act of eating in this harried context activates or worsens the very digestive problems we work so hard to overcome. In short, we become fressers and suffer digestive consequences.

The Benefits of Healthy Essen

Eating like a “fresser,” which involves eating quickly, getting as many calories in as fast as we can, preparing what is easy instead of what is nutritious, and looking at the act of eating as something to get through rather than to savor, are all examples of digestive distress-inducing practices.

Instead, being an “esser” looks very different. When we ess, we are selecting food for its nutritional value, freshness, and flavor instead of merely easy availability. When we ess, the social connection aspect of eating becomes easily as important as what we eat. Taking time to linger while we eat, at least 20-minutes seated at the table, to sit and socialize and converse is powerfully soothing and supportive of greater digestive wellness.

When we practice essen vs. fressen, we perceive bodily signals that support effective digestion; we are less prone to ignore bodily cues tuned to satiety (nutritional sufficiency) vs. fullness (muscle discomfort associated with stomach wall distension); through essen we impact the interactions between the enteric immune system, our gut microbiota, or vagal (parasympathetic) nervous system; and we support the production and secretion of “psychobiotics” molecules that have a positive impact on mood, anxiety, mental clarity, and sounder sleep. In sum, essen is a universal practice to cultivate no matter how much wheat grass, selenium, Bifidobacterium, or deglutenized food is part of your digestive health regimen.

I encourage you to conduct a self-check about your eating habits. Committing to ess more and fress less may be a simple step you can take now on the road to achieving digestive wellness.

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Breaking the Bad Sleep – Bad IBS Cycle

Breaking the Bad Sleep - Bad IBS Cycle

Anxiety, Sleep, and IBS

The majority of the clients I see for IBS also struggle with poor sleep. There is good evidence that links better sleep patterns with better control of IBS, and this isn’t all that surprising when we recognize the central role that sleep plays in regulating and coordinating all of our body’s natural rhythms.

Poor sleep can be both a cause and an effect of IBS. In other words, poor sleep can cause IBS, and IBS can disrupt sleep.

In addition to the “gut-sleep connection,” the “gut-brain connection” is another important area of exploration. Our expanding knowledge of this pathway uncovers the need to understand how the brain is generating anxiety, and how that anxiety leads to poor sleep and poor gut functioning.

What is an Axious Gut?

The latest research reveals that when certain bacteria gain an upper hand in the gut, the brain develops an anxious outlook.

The body goes into hyper-arousal mode. Everything, including other people, appear more threatening. Digestive health goes off the rails, with diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and pain increasing. Social relationships suffer, too, when we start to favor avoidance over connection.

But, we’ve also learned that the influence moves in the other direction such that anxiety is also capable of causing bacterial imbalances in the gut. Anxiety alters our microbiome in ways that make it harder for the body’s systems, including the gut, to remain well-regulated. So, reducing anxiety, regardless of the source, is an important component of IBS self-management.

How Can Sleep Help?

Sleep patterns sit right at the intersection of brain and gut rhythms. When IBS is active, sleep disturbances increase. When anxiety levels are higher, being able to fall and stay asleep is a major challenge.

But, because everything in the body is connected to a multi-directional communication network, focusing on getting good sleep not only reduces anxiety, it also helps to re-regulate gut functioning to reduce IBS symptoms. So, what can you begin doing right away?

Creating Conditions for Good Sleep

Here are tried and true methods for restoring sleep to reduce anxiety and increase IBS control.


Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

This involves synchronizing your body with the natural rhythms of sunrise and moonrise. Slow down in the evening. Turn down lights and lower sounds as evening falls. Disconnect from electronic devices.

Approach getting good sleep as essential as getting good nutrition. (I offer much more on sleep and IBS control in our Free Mini-Course and, of course, in our full IBS Relief Now program).


Pre-sleep Routine

Develop a pre-sleep mental and physical quieting routine. That may involve meditation, prayer, a warm bath, a yogic shavasana relaxation practice, self-hypnosis or guided imagery, a slow and leisurely walk, or sipping a cup of chamomile tea.


Try Natural Supplements

Research has shown that intermittent use of natural supplements to be helpful in obtaining good sleep for certain individuals. This should be undertaken after consulting with a qualified health professional who knows you and your specific health status.

But, melatonin, magnesium, zinc, glycine, L-theanine, passion flower, and valerian root have all shown variable degrees of benefit when used appropriately.


Get Out and Get Moving

Increasing activity levels during the day has been proven to have a major benefit in improving sleep at night. This doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise. Walking is the most universally accessible and widely beneficial movement activity in which you can engage.


Self Reflective Journaling

Finally, consider developing a journaling practice taking 10-15 minutes to jot down, without self-censorship, what’s on your mind.

It is a good time to gain control over runaway worries. It is a time to develop the practice of writing down three things for which you are grateful. It is a time to identify fear or worries or matters about which you are angry and learn to let them go through imagery or breathing practices or other proven approaches.

Regardless of the paths and practices you choose, bringing together good sleep, improved IBS control, and a more optimistic and positive outlook is a well-established way of regaining control of both your gut and your life. Sweet dreams!

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Here’s What’s Really Causing Your IBS

Here’s What’s Really Causing Your IBS

(and it’s not what you think)

Chasing Symptoms and Misunderstanding Causes

In today’s world, we expect answers to our questions, and we expect them quickly. When it comes to managing IBS, chasing simple and quick fixes can be as much of the problem as the IBS pattern itself.

Too often, we chase symptoms and settle for narrowly focused ideas of their causes and how to tackle them: “Just eliminate gluten.” “Eat more fiber.” “Practice meditation.” “Go on an elimination diet.” “Go on an anti-inflammation diet.” “Take Nexium.” “Worry less.” “Exercise more.” “Exercise less.” “Just relax.” Continue reading “Here’s What’s Really Causing Your IBS”

Three Major Players in Gut Health

Three Major Players in Gut Health

And how to help them help you

Your digestive system is amazingly complex. Singular inputs, like certain foods, can kick off cascade reactions that affect the body in a multitude of ways. Because of this complexity, you may grow frustrated with how difficult it can be to figure out what helps your IBS and what doesn’t. Continue reading “Three Major Players in Gut Health”

Whose Side Are You On?

Whose Side Are You On?

Antibiotics vs. C. difficile

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What’s at Stake When Taking Antibiotics

Each year, more than 150 million antibiotic prescriptions are written. Only a fraction of them are truly necessary. But, whether necessary or not, antibiotic use opens the door to a host of digestive problems, including the development of Clostridium difficile (known as C. diff.), a major digestive bacterial overgrowth syndrome associated with watery diarrhea, cramping, severe pain, dehydration, and fever. This risk arises because antibiotics can indiscriminately kill off many of the friendly or commensal species of bacteria that happily live in our guts and which are so necessary for enabling smooth digestion and nutritional health.

Continue reading “Whose Side Are You On?”

Your Gut Bacteria Linked to Obesity

Each month brings out new research studies showing that the bacteria that live in our digestive tracts are intimately linked to our health in many ways. Our understanding of the relationships between our “gut flora” (the bacteria living in our digestive tract) and our health is still in its infancy. But, several trends are emerging.

One interesting line of research, which was highlighted in a 2018 article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, involved the relationship between the presence of specific types of bacteria in our gut and the likelihood that we will become obese. They found specific types of bacteria were contributing to higher amounts of a substance called glutamate that circulates in our blood. Glutamate levels in the blood are strongly linked to the risk of obesity. Continue reading “Your Gut Bacteria Linked to Obesity”


What Diet is Best for Managing IBS

There really, absolutely, positively IS a sure-fire diet that effectively permanently controls IBS. Here it is: Eat whatever you want that 1) doesn’t aggravate your IBS symptoms, 2) doesn’t create other health problems, such as obesity, heart disease, insomnia, anxiety, or depression, and 3) leaves you feeling healthy, well-energized, and with a confident and optimistic outlook on your future!

We ALL want THAT diet. Sadly, when it comes to a one-size fits all solution, there isn’t one. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since each of us is unique; each of us lives a life that involves different circumstances and conditions; and just as no two of us share the same fingerprint, no two of us requires exactly the same nutrients to be fully healthy.

So, what do we do to bring the frustrating ravages of IBS under consistent control? Continue reading “IS THERE AN IBS DIET?”

Caring For Our Gastrointestinal Guests

The Body’s Rhythms

Our body wouldn’t function without being guided by many automatic rhythms. Think about it: heart rhythms, breathing rhythms, swallowing and blinking rhythms, nerve firing rhythms, circulating hormone release rhythms. These life-sustaining rhythms occur all day, every day in an automatic, unconscious way. Most of these rhythms also fluctuate within a life-supporting range – faster heart and breathing rates as our activity levels increase, for example. Continue reading “Caring For Our Gastrointestinal Guests”