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YOUR HEALTH: Treating your gut through your head

NEW YORK CITY – Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease can create real problems on a person's insides.

These immune diseases cause the intestines to become inflamed and can cause a lot of pain.  In addition to traditional medicine and surgery, specialists are exploring the connection between mind and gut and using alternative therapies to bring relief.

1.6 million Americans struggle with inflammatory bowel disease: a chronic, painful condition that can also sap a patient's energy.

MaryLou Wellbrock-Reeves has seen many doctors and specialists throughout her life-long struggle with Crohn's disease.

"Some of my days are racked with such pain, it's analogous to labor pain."

Her family is what keeps her going as she searches for the best way to live with a condition that has no cure.

For MaryLou, that includes what's called gastric-directed hypnotherapy.

"The brain and the gut are connected through the vagus nerve which is responsible for communicating a whole bunch of functions," explained Laurie Keefer, G-I Health Psychologist & Associate Professor of Medicine at the Susan and Leonard Feinstein IBD Clinical Center at Mount Sinai Hospital.

"How fast things move through the body. How you process waste. How much inflammation."

Crohn's disease isn't caused by stress, but stress can amplify the symptoms.

For MaryLou, hypnosis is one part of a whole-body approach to managing her disease.

"I think people still think it's a magic act. It's not a magic act. It's really a heavy emphasis on focus and self-focus."

"When a patient is in a focused state of attention, their brain is much more open to suggestion than it would be in an normal setting," said Keefer.

Hypnosis helps MaryLou with things like behavioral and dietary changes.  She uses it, along with traditional treatment, to help keep her Crohn's in control.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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