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Using Hypnosis To Fix Your Belly With Your Mind

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Does this look like your ulcer pain? Check out this use for hypnosis.

Hypnotic News back today with an study (all sources notated there) about hypnosis in treating gastrointestinal disorders. It always fascinates me when I find another use for hypnosis, but this one is particularly fascinating. It’s amazing what the mind can do in affecting physiological symptoms, let alone gastrointestinal disorders. Let’s get a little technical and take a look at the highlights of the research article.

Hypnosis And Gastrointestinal Disease

Today we check out a study about the efficacy of hypnosis in digestive function and disease. It focuses primarily on the use of hypnosis in the modulation of upper digestive motor and secretory function. Several studies over the past several years [1214] have concluded that hypnotherapy is an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.

A Single Starting Point: IBS

The research into the treatment of digestive and gastrointestinal disorders with hypnosis stemmed from studies on IBS in England [15] where the effects of hypnosis vs placebo (add link to our article) were studied. The study used a structured intervention developed by this Manchester team called gut-focused hypnotherapy. This technique aims primarily to normalize disordered bowel function, but additionally provides relaxation, coping skills, and ego-strengthening suggestion[16]. The study showed that those who participated in hypnosis showed substantial improvement in all IBS symptoms and improved far more significantly than in the other supportive psychotherapy groups [15]. A later paper indicated that the gastrointestinal benefits persisted for up to 18 mo[17].

this study while small, was a landmark trial. The first offering a solution for these problems through hypnosis. Since then, other studies by independent investigators found similar results in both uncontrolled and controlled trials. The Manchester group has since created a hypnotherapy unit routinely offering hypnotic GI treatment to those not benefiting more conventional treatments [16]. Recently they reported the long term outcomes of the first 250 people treated [22,23]. Results show a 71% overall response to treatment, 50% average reduction in bowl symptom severity, and 1 of 5 respondents maintaining full therapeutic benefits up to 5 years after the end of treatments [22,23].

Since this foundation study the Manchester group has expanded their treatment to other functional bowl disorders. Their group has demonstrated that esophageal disorders and functional gastroduodenal disorders are also suitable targets for hypnotic treatment.

Hypnosis & Upper Digestive Function

Another investigated area related to hypnosis and GI problems is gastric acid production. In the past, gastroenterologists spent a good deal of time studying gastric acid secretion [28,2]. Professionals attributed, in part, peptic ulcer disease a psychosomatic disease caused by an excess of gastric acid and stress[30,31].

As a result, acid secretion was an attractive variable to attempt to influence with hypnosis. Early studies in the 1960s and 70s, while flawed and contradictory, suggested more research for confirmation of the results. It wasn’t until 1989 that a well designed trail found success with high hypnotic respondents [32]. Despite refraining from exploring the cause of this reaction, they postulated that hypnosis influenced cognitive processing within the central nervous system[32].

Other Studies

two other studies have evaluated the influence of hypnosis on the upper digestive system. The first of these studied hypnosis in relation to orocaecal transits. While it did not prove what it set out to accomplish, it was still influential. It was the first study showing an influence of hypnosis on upper digestive function in individuals not selected for high suggestibility.

Emptying Rates

More recently a study by Chiarioni, et al in Italy has also explored gastric emptying rates of a typical Mediterranean meal (pasta with meat sauce, cheese, bread). Total emptying time of a meal has been validated as a reliable index of gastric motor function in health and disease when compared with times measured using gastric scintigraphy[37]. Subjects were studied under 3 conditions. A basal session, a drug session (before eating), and a hypnosis session.

The hypnotic session included the usual inductions and deepeners with suggestions of improved gastric function derived from the research of the Manchester group [16]. The hypnotic sessions concluded with an ego strengthening technique designed to increase confidence [40]. Whether the subjects were healthy or not, nearly all subjects showed improved gastric emptying with hypnosis. In addition, epigastric sensations (i.e. fullness and discomfort) were significantly improved by hypnosis in the dyspeptic patients [36].

Interestingly, however, symptomatic improvements did not correlate with improved gastric motor function. Leaving the hypnotic meachanisms of action unexplained [36].

GI Problems and Mental Health

There is good evidence that GI problems may have links to mental health and stability. The Manchester group studied functional dyspepsia (FD) in a recent study. Comorbidity with psychiatric disorders, especially anxiety disorders, appear to be high in those suffering from FD[45]. As many as 30% of the population report having dyspeptic symptoms every year [43,45] and the results of medications are often unsatisfactory [43,44,46].

This study followed patients over a 16 week treatment plan followed by a 40 week followup phase consisting of observation with no intervention. The study performed hypnosis during the treatment phase. At the short term followup (16 weeks) hypnosis had significantly ameliorated the symptoms in comparison to other treatment options [25] as identified by quality of life scores and analogous improvements. Subjects maintained improvements at the long term follow up (56 weeks). The authors concluded that hypnotherapy is an effective treatment for functional dyspepsia both in the short and long term, but the mechanism/s of action remained speculative[24].

How Hypnosis Helps (Science)

While the mechanism of action in hypnosis is ill defined, the article goes on to speculate factors that contribute to its influence on physiological function and symptoms in the upper digestive tract. We know there is evidence of increased gastric visceral perception (or hypersensitivity) in GI subjects suffering from functional dyspepsia[43,54]. The altered perception may be mediated by an automatic imbalance on a cortical and peripheral levels [55].

Hypnosis creates a state of severe relaxation and a decrease in sympathetic nervous system activity[1,3]. While this response is not limited to hypnosis, the physiological changes are specific to hypnosis. In addition, the feelings of relaxation gained from hypnosis tend to last longer than the actual hypnosis itself. A reduction of epinephrine end organ responsiveness appears to facilitate this response. [3].

We also know that stress increases gastric acid secretion. Also, experimental stress delays gastric emptying and increases plasma levels of noradrenaline plus accelerating small bowel transit[5860]. Therefore the acceleration of gastric emptying may be secondary to relaxation response.


Every year we find more applications for hypnosis. For pain, for psychosomatic disorders, for symptoms of mental disorders, and more. And now we’re finding out that hypnosis can and has been used in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. With results (depending on purpose) lasting up to 5 years.

I know this post has been a bit technically, but every once in a while I like to share a research article. Getting technical shows us that the scientific community is taking us more seriously. I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a bit of that article that was over my head. That’s why I attempted to summarize the most important parts here.

The point is that hypnosis is of benefit to many types of gastrointestinal distress. If you are curious about hypnosis from how it works to what else it may assist in, check out the relevant portions of our site, listed below:


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