How culture effects your IBS symptoms

How culture effects your IBS symptoms

So how can culture can affect your IBS symptoms, chance of recovery and treatment?

Ann Harrington, a Harvard professor of the history of science explains it nicely in the video below.

Her talk about the relationship between culture and disease blew my mind. And I think it could change the way you think about IBS.

We see diseases as something that happens in the mysterious worlds of science and bodies, outside of human control.

Ann’s talk will open your eyes to a new perspective.

Here’s a summary of the what she says, but I encourage you to listen to the video yourself because it’s fascinating.

She argues that diseases throughout history  have been influenced by cultural and scientific ideas of the time. And when those ideas are no longer accepted by our culture, even if they are epidemics, the seem to vanish. She gives some great examples.


You’ve probably never heard of nuerasthenia before, but it was an epidemic in the late 1800s. They never found a cure for it, but it doesn’t exist today.

Nuerasthenia was believed to be caused by a depletion of a person’s nerve force from working too hard or too much stimulation.

This may sound like an early name for adrenal fatigue, but it involves symptoms that are not associated with modern stress-related conditions. Symptoms like the inability to deal with bright lights or loud noises, respiration issues, and tendency to develop skin rashes.

The treatment was also different.  A small machine was used to recharge the nervous system with an electrostatic current, sort of like plugging in an iPhone. While this may sounds absurd to us, patients at the time responded well to this treatment. It worked.

By the mid 20th century, the science behind nuerasthenia was no longer seemed plausible. As a result this condition simply vanished in the West. But because the underlying concept was in line with Chinese ideas of how chi (energy) affects the nervous system, this condition persisted in China until the 1980s!

Finally it died out in China as physicians took a more Western approach and started diagnosing the same symptoms as anxiety and depression.

In the video she also discusses a fascinating case study of a disease that only exists in Korea among women who repress their anger.

What this means

Ann Harrington’s research illustrates how our bodies subconsciously mold sensations and experiences to acceptable social norms. It teaches us how to  feel sick and how to recover.

There’s a name for this phenomenon in our society. It’s called the placebo effect. And of course it works in reverse.

If a doctors trivialized your experience by calling it psychosomatic (it’s in your head) know that it’s a meaningless thing to say.

Our bodies respond in these ways as a survival mechanism. We get sick in acceptable ways to conform to expectations, be taken seriously and get the help we need.

Based on this information, it seems to me that IBS is a modern day version of nuerasthenia.

IBS medication

I relate to professor Harrington’s talk not because she’s a Harvard academic, and it’s based in historical research, but because I’ve experienced this phenomenon in my practice of Chi Gong.

In class, I notice a connections between my thoughts and the sensations in my body. I’ve also notice that the experiences of the student next to me and the teacher’s intentions can affect the reactions and sensations in my body.

This experience has shown me how interconnected we are. The mind and body don’t just connect to each other, but are affected by environment also.

You’ve likely experienced this connection before. The more sensitive you are the more you are influenced by your environment.  But we aren’t always aware of what happening.

That’s why the beliefs of our doctors and the whole medical system effects how we feel and heal. We buy into it too. Our prognosis sets the stage for our recovery.

That’s why I have such a problem with people saying that there is no known cure for IBS or SIBO. It becomes a self fulfilling prophesy.

I made a video about this 2 years ago,  renaming Irritable Bowel Syndrome (I guess it’s better than the old name “spastic colon”) to “Imbalanced Body Symptom”. The new name implies hope and possibility. It doesn’t limit the way you think about your issues.

The way we think and talk about what’s going on with us is important. We don’t have to fall prey to popular beliefs about our bodies.

Doesn’t bringing yourself into balance sound more doable than battling your cranky bowels?

Do you FEEL the difference? Here is the video I made. The video of professor Harrington is below.

I think that my biggest advantage in healing myself was my rebellious nature. I refused to buy the common paradigm about IBS.

I had to be a maverick and go against the grain.

Changing the way we perceive our health issues can have profound impact on healing success. Don’t lump yourself in the hopeless IBS category.

Check out the video below (it’s 20 minutes long) and open your mind to a new perspective on your body and it’s connection to the world. Consider that it may have an effect.

You can learn more by checking out Harrington’s book: The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine.

angelafavheadshotAngela Privin is proof that IBS is NOT an incurable disease or a disease at all. IBS is a body out of balance. It’s an invitation for change. After solving her own IBS mystery more than a decade ago Angela trained as a health coach to help others.

Angela uses both science and intuition to help people figure out what’s out of balance in their body. She works with lab tests, dietary changes, supplementation and nervous system rebalancing. Get help rebalancing your digestive system and solving your IBS mystery here.

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