Hypnosis may ease inflammation in colitis

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Hypnosis therapy may help ease some of the bowel inflammation seen in ulcerative colitis, a small study suggests.

Ulcerative colitis is a disease that causes chronic inflammation in the lining of the colon and rectum, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhea. There a number of medications for the disorder, but there is some research to suggest that hypnosis could serve as an additional therapy.

For example, “hypnotherapy” has been shown to aid irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers -- conditions that, like colitis, involve inflammation and can be worsened by psychological stress.

For the current study, UK researchers had 17 patients with active ulcerative colitis undergo a 50-minute session of “gut-focused” hypnotherapy aimed at relaxation and relief of inflammation. Another eight patients, who acted as a “control” group, listened to their choice of music for 50 minutes.

Afterward, the researchers found, blood levels of IL-6 -- a marker of inflammation in the body -- fell by 53 percent in the hypnosis group, whereas music listeners showed no substantial change.

Similarly, certain other chemical markers of inflammation declined in the hypnosis group, but not in the control group, the investigators report in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

“This work shows that a single short session of hypnosis can return some of the chemical changes in the bowel associated with inflammation back towards normal in patients with ulcerative colitis,” senior researcher Dr. David S. Rampton, of Barts and the London, Queen Mary School of Medicine and Dentistry, told Reuters Health.

Exactly why hypnosis might ease inflammation is not clear. According to Rampton’s team, the therapy might have direct effects on colon activity or it might affect people’s pain tolerance or perceptions of their symptoms.

The current findings, Rampton said, provide “a scientific basis for a properly designed clinical trial” to see whether hypnotherapy, given over weeks or months, might benefit people with ulcerative colitis.

He noted that it could also be worthwhile to study hypnosis for people with Crohn’s disease, another form of inflammatory bowel disease.

SOURCE: American Journal of Gastroenterology, June 2008.