These Surprising Factors Can Affect IBD

by Elizabeth Roberts Patient Expert

If you have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) - Colitis or Crohn’s - then you probably know that inflammation in the colon is a hallmark sign or symptom of these diseases. You may also know that stress is being shown in studies to cause inflammation in the body.

According to a study published by Carnegie Mellon University (1) April 2, 2012, “Stress wreaks havoc on the mind and body. Until now, it has not been clear exactly how stress influences disease and health. Now researchers have found that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. The research shows for the first time that the effects of psychological stress on the body’s ability to regulate inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease.”

While stress is not the cause of IBD, or any other auto-immune disease, it is most likely one of the multiple factors that can influence the onset and/or progression of the disease. My own personal experience with UC is that stress of any kind – psychological, environmental and/or physical – can make my UC symptoms worse.

In the naturopathic and nutrition world, we often discuss the concept of “total load” with our clients. According to Dr. Frank Lipman, total load “refers to the total number of factors or burdens that are involved in causing disease or preventing you from getting well or staying ill. (2)”

Factors that can increase your “total load” and thus affect your IBD (or overall health) include:

Sugar in excessive amounts – Sugar is found in nearly all packaged, pre-made and commercially canned or jarred foods. The typical American eats far too much sugar.

Pesticides, chemicals, antibiotics and hormones in the foods we eat - Eat as cleanly as you can, choosing organic, pasture-raised, antibiotic-free and hormone-free foods as often as you can. Without toxins in food, our body can easily work better.

Dehydration – Many of us are chronically dehydrated and that alone can cause our body to become ill. Soda, coffee, caffeinated teas and sugary drinks leach moisture and vitamins from the body. Pure, filtered water should be the primary drink in our day.

Excess chemicals in the foods we eat, the personal care products we use, and the household cleaners we use. Look for more natural alternatives at

Medications, prescription, OTC and recreational – the body uses a lot of resources to filter out toxins found in these products.

Food allergies or sensitivities – Consult an allergist, nutrition consultant or naturopath who can help determine if certain foods are affecting your health.

Lack of sunshine – Natural sunlight and sunshine are vitally important to your emotional and physical well-being. Sunlight on the naked skin (20-30 minutes/day) is the best way to get your daily dose of vitamin D, which is known to help the immune system and improve mood.

Lack of restorative sleep – The average body needs at least seven hours of deep, REM-producing sleep every night.

Day-to-day stress – Our lives are very busy, and while it can be difficult, we need to learn to make and take time for ourselves.

Workplace stress - Meeting deadlines and being buried in work can affect you outside the office.

Home-life stress – Do you have laughter, love and fulfilling relationships in your life? All of these are vitally important to one’s feelings of happiness, self-worth and meaning in life.

If we have only one or two of these “factors” to contend with, our “total load” may not be so bad, and a good night’s sleep might be enough to recharge the body’s battery. But it is when there is an accumulation of the aforementioned factors that our body can’t keep up and cope and inflammation and/or disease become present. Dr. Lipman says, “When my patients decrease these burdens on their bodies and at the same time, add in what may be deficient, their organs begin to improve their capacity to endure and respond to stress.”

In addition to decreasing burdens and “total load,” adding enjoyable, stress-reducing activities to your daily or weekly routine are also helpful and add to our overall happiness and contentment. Such activities might include:

  • Yoga, Qigong, Tai Chi, meditation

  • Reading for pleasure

  • Coloring (yes, even adults can color – or paint, draw, sketch, sculpt, pottery or photography)

  • Crosswords, find-a-words or puzzles

  • Knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, sewing

  • Woodworking, cabinetry

  • Gardening

The point is to listen to your body, make time for yourself, and realize that decreasing stress and your “total load” can have a positive effect upon your health.


  1. Sheldon Cohen, Denise Janicki-Deverts, William J. Doyle, Gregory E. Miller, Ellen Frank, Bruce S. Rabin, and Ronald B. Turner. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. PNAS, April 2, 2012 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1118355109


Elizabeth Roberts is a Holistic Nutrition Consultant and Natural Chef who also lives with IBD. She focuses her work on Digestive Wellness and enjoys working primarily with other IBDers. You can contact her at or visit her website at:

Elizabeth Roberts
Meet Our Writer
Elizabeth Roberts

Elizabeth wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Digestive Health.