COLUMBUS, O.H. — Some doctors are trying a different approach to treating gastrointestinal conditions. They're recommending visits to an art gallery. The idea is that if the mind is relaxed, the gut will be relaxed.
"So we we have several kinds of ways of knowing how the mind and gut is connected. One of them, for instance, is we know that patients who suffer from conditions like irritable bowel syndrome tend to have higher levels of anxiety and depression," said Dr. Subhankar Chakraborty, a gastroenterologist with The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
The American Gastroenterological Association estimates that GI conditions impact 60-70 million Americans, and disrupts daily life for many.
That's why Dr. Chakraborty, and others at Wexner Medical Center, created a pilot program testing art museum visits as a way to address this.
Seventeen patients took part and visited an art museum once a week for eight weeks. The visits were guided and included open conversations where people shared how their GI symptoms have impacted their lives.
"They felt a connection to others who are going through similar kinds of problems. They also felt that they were able to now better articulate how they felt about their symptoms," said Dr. Chakraborty.
"So it was just nice to be in a group feeling like, you know, we're all kind of a team here," said Kim, a participant in the program. She feels the experience set her up with the tools to manage her chronic acid reflux long-term.
"This opportunity to sort of take a break in the middle of a work week and go be in this creative right brain sort of environment I found, really helped me to learn how to switch off the left brain and go into my right brain," said Kim.
"It's amazing, you know, what that can do from a stress relief standpoint. It's not unlike meditation, or, or, you know, taking a walk outside in the middle of a stressful day. It sort of breaks that cycle."
Focusing on the mind-gut connection may not totally eliminate the need for GI medications, but Dr. Chakraborty said it could be a way to reduce the need for them. He hopes to see programs expand in this area.
In the meantime, regularly doing things that relax you could help with GI symptoms. Dr. Chakraborty recommends meditation or taking a walk like Kim has done. Researchers also saw promising results in GI patients who took part in a separate coloring study as a way to relax.