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Could gravity be responsible for irritable bowel syndrome?

"Our bodies are affected by gravity from the moment we’re born till the day we die," says director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai

By Web Desk
December 03, 2022
Woman suffering from a stomach pain.— Pexels
Woman suffering from a stomach pain.— Pexels

Some individuals may be able to avoid irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) merely by rewriting the fundamental rules of physics, a study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology claims. According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre researchers, gravity itself may be the underlying cause of IBS.

“As long as there's been life on Earth, from the earliest organisms to Homo sapiens, gravity has relentlessly shaped everything on the planet,” said Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai, in a media release. 

"Our bodies are affected by gravity from the moment we’re born to the day we die."

At least 10% of the population suffers from IBS

Spiegel's theory explains how the brain, spine, heart, nerves, and intestines evolved over time to adapt to the planet's gravitational pull. Despite the fact that IBS mechanisms were first discussed in science more than a century ago, no one has yet been able to determine its underlying causes. Even though it affects around one in 10 people in the world, researchers are still unsure of its cause.

In the same breath, researchers have come a long way in comprehending the illness more thoroughly. There are a number of ideas explaining how IBS manifests clinically. There is evidence to support the use of neuromodulators and behavioural therapies in the treatment of IBS symptoms, and one theory holds that the condition is caused by an imbalance in the gut-brain system.

Another claims that the cause of IBS is the disruption of the gut flora (the microorganisms in the gut) and that the condition can be treated with antibiotics or a low FODMAP diet that aims to cut back on foods high in fibre and carbohydrates that may irritate the gut lining. Others contend that the disease can also be brought on by problems with the autonomic nervous system, hypersensitive gut, aberrant serotonin levels, or motility problems.

Spiegel said that he wondered if all the explanations could be simultaneously true.

“As I thought about each theory, from those involving motility to bacteria, to the neuropsychology of IBS, I realised they might all point back to gravity as a unifying factor. It seemed pretty strange at first, no doubt, but as I developed the idea and ran it by colleagues, it started to make sense.”

How does gravity play a role?

The organs may draw down as a result of gravity, shifting them out of their appropriate position. The heavyweight parts of the abdomen can cause musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal problems if they move out of place. Due to their anatomically superior ability to support weight, not everyone experiences this.

The idea that gravity has an impact on human health goes beyond the digestive tract and may also include mood and nerves.

“Our nervous system also evolved in a world of gravity, and that might explain why many people feel abdominal 'butterflies' when anxious,” the professor added. 

Serotonin levels are related because they are mostly responsible for elevating mood. When levels fluctuate, it may be difficult for people to do everyday tasks including standing up, keeping their balance, and pumping blood and intestine contents against gravity. 

Spiegel and other experts concur that additional research is required to evaluate this notion given all the moving parts.