Wild new hypothesis suggests IBS could be a form of ‘gravity intolerance’: ScienceAlert
There is an invisible and inexorable force acting on your gut right now, and it may be causing serious irritation to some people.
No one really knows how or why irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) develops, but gastroenterologist Brennan Spiegel of Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles has come up with an important new hypothesis.
In operation Published in American Journal of GastroenterologySpiegel claims that IBS is caused by the body’s inability to manage gravity.
Our intestines, explains Spiegel, are like a big sack of potatoes that we have to carry all our lives.
If our body’s normal gravity management fails for any reason, our diaphragm can slide down and squeeze our intestines, which can cause motility problems and bacterial overgrowth.
“Our nervous system also evolved in a world of gravity, and this may explain why many people experience stomach ‘butterflies’ when they are anxious,” he says Spiegel.
“Interestingly, these ‘gut feelings’ also occur when we’re falling toward Earth, like when we’re descending on a roller coaster or in a turbulent airplane. Nerves in the gut are like an ancient G-force detector that alerts us when we’re experiencing—or about to experience—a dangerous fall. It’s just a hypothesis, but people with IBS may be prone to over-anticipating G-force threats that never happen.”
The nice part about Spiegel’s hypothesis is that it’s easy to test and doesn’t rule out other theories of IBS.
There is currently no definitive test for IBS, and symptoms vary greatly from patient to patient. As a result, the syndrome usually takes the form of diagnosis of exclusion.
After ruling out other disorders that can cause bowel symptoms—such as pain, bloating, cramping, constipation, or diarrhea—patients are usually told they have IBS.
Today, about 10 percent People all over the world are thought to suffer from the syndrome, and Spiegel is one of many scientists working to find out why.
Gravity, he claims, could be the grounding force that brings all these different symptoms together.
According to Spiegel’s framework, a disordered response to gravity can also cause a disruption of the gut-brain interaction. By crushing the gut, it can even affect the gut microbiome, causing hypersensitivity, inflammation or discomfort.
“There are so many explanations that I wondered if they could all be true at the same time,” he says Spiegel.
“As I thought about each theory, from those involving motility, to bacteria, to the neuropsychology of IBS, I realized that they could all point to gravity as a unifying factor. At first, no doubt, it seemed quite strange, but how I developed the idea myself and my colleagues started it, it started to make sense.”
If IBS is caused by the body fighting gravity, this could explain why physical therapy and exercise can prove so helpful in relieving symptoms.
This could also explain why serotonin tends to be elevated in patients with IBS.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is primarily produced in the intestines regulate bowel function and mood, but too much can induce diarrhea. It is also included in regulating our blood pressure in response to gravity.
Without serotonin, Spiegel says, your body may not be able to stand up, maintain balance, or keep blood circulating.
“Dysregulated serotonin may be a form of gravity failure,” claims Spiegel.
“When serotonin biology is abnormal, people can develop IBS, anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. These can be forms of gravity intolerance.”
Chronic fatigue syndrome/ myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is another chronic and debilitating disease with no cause or cure, and often passes with IBS. Many CFS/ME patients they also struggle with standingwhich can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, fatigue, dizziness and rapid heartbeat.
Other symptoms that pass with IBS include lower back pain, headaches, dizziness, and postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS), when blood pressure drops sharply after a person rises.
All these conditions can be explained by the body’s inability to properly manage the force of gravity.
Without direct research, Siegel says the gravity hypothesis is just a “thought experiment.” But he hopes it will spur new ways to research and treat IBS in the future.
“Our relationship to gravity is no different than a fish’s relationship to water,” it says Siegel.
“We live in it all our lives, it shapes us, but we hardly notice its ever-present influence on the nature of our existence.”
Maybe it’s high time we considered it.
The study was published in American Journal of Gastroenterology.