The Effects of Hypnosis on Gastrointestinal Functioning

Here is an extract from an article published by Olafur S. Palsson, Psy.D. Associate Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine, UNC-Chapel Hill, explaining why hypnosis is so effective in the treatment of even long standing gut pain problems.

[1]. . . In recent years, the effects of gastrointestinal functioning and GI symptoms have been studied extensively.

The hypnotic state itself, without any particular suggestions, seems to slow down the gut. Clear-cut and specific changes in GI functioning can be induced in individuals by directing thinking or inducing specific emotional states under hypnosis. For example, one study found that when healthy volunteers were hypnotized and simply instructed to relax, the orocaecal transit time (the time it takes material to pass through the GI tract from the mouth to the first part of the colon) was lengthened from 93 to 133 minutes.

Another study found that being in a hypnotic state decreases muscle movements in the stomach. The same study demonstrated that the emotional state of happiness, created under hypnosis, suppresses gastric muscle activity while anger and excitement increase muscle movement in the stomach. A pair of other studies have shown that when volunteers were guided to use imagery of eating a delicious meal while they were under hypnosis, gastric acid secretion was increased by 89%, and that acid production of the stomach could also be deliberately decreased during hypnosis using hypnotic instructions. Close to fifty published studies have reported on the therapeutic effects of hypnosis on nausea and vomiting problems related to chemotherapy, after surgery, and during pregnancy. Overall, this substantial body of literature indicates that hypnosis can be a powerful aid in controlling nausea and vomiting.

Hypnosis may also be helpful in preventing gastrointestinal problems from recurring after they have been treated with medication. One study of thirty patients with relapsing duodenal ulcers who had been successfully treated with a course of medication, found that only 53% of the patients who received preventive hypnosis treatment had a relapse within one year. By contrast, everyone (100%) in a comparison group receiving no hypnosis relapsed in the same period of time. In 1984, researchers in Manchester in England published a study report in the journal Lancet, showing that hypnosis treatment dramatically improved the symptoms of IBS patients who had failed to benefit from other treatment.

The researchers had randomly divided patients with severe IBS problems into two groups. Fifteen patients were treated with seven hypnosis sessions. Fifteen comparison patients were treated with seven sessions of psychotherapy, and those patients also received placebo pills (pills with no medically active ingredients) which they were told were a new research medication for IBS symptoms. Every patient in the hypnosis group improved, and that group showed substantial improvement in all central symptoms of IBS. The control group showed only very modest improvement in symptoms. Partly due to these dramatic results with treatment-refractory patients, a dozen other studies have followed, including three U.S. studies.

The general conclusions from most of these studies are that hypnosis seems to improve the symptoms of 80% or more of all treated patients who have welldefined “classic” IBS problems, especially if they do not have complicating factors such as psychiatric disorders. The improvement is, in many cases, maintained for at least a year after the end of treatment. What is particularly remarkable is that this high rate of positive treatment response is seen even in studies where all the participating patients had failed to improve from regular medical care.

You can read the entire article here.


[1] Effects of Hypnosis on GI Problems, Olafur S. Palsson, Psy.D. Associate Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine, UNC-Chapel Hill

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