Women are more likely to have the extremely fun experience of dealing with stomach and gut conditions, though experts don't quite know why. But according to new data, an overlap with your mental health may help explain that link. The data, collected by health startup Amino, encompasses two years of patient experiences with chronic gut conditions. Those included irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, and acid reflux, as well as gallstones, colon cancer, and celiac disease. Amino's analyses showed that women are far more likely to be diagnosed with many of these conditions, including celiac, acid reflux, gallstones, and Crohn's disease, than men. But according to Amino's report, the biggest gender difference is women are nearly three times as likely to be diagnosed with IBS as men.
Researchers have noticed this pattern before, but it's still unclear why women would be more susceptible to these conditions than men. Theories include that it might be due to differences in intestinal cells or simply that women see their doctors more often, giving them more opportunities to be diagnosed. But in other data that Amino shared with R29, the company found that mental illnesses — especially anxiety disorders — are commonly diagnosed alongside those tummy issues. For instance, those with IBS are twice as likely to have any anxiety disorder, and 2.2 times as likely to have generalized anxiety disorder than those without IBS. From these results, it's impossible to tell which — if any — condition causes the other, but it's definitely suggestive of a connection. And other research (such as this 2009 study) backs up that trend. Although your head and your intestines are anatomically far apart, researchers are beginning to understand that they're more connected than you might expect. For instance, research has shown that the types of friendly bacteria housed in your gut might have an effect on your mood. And when they're out of whack, we might feel it in the form of gut troubles or even symptoms of depression and anxiety, which are also more common in women than men. If an issue with gut bacteria is at the root of your gut problems, it might also be at least partly responsible for your anxiety. If you think that might be the case, you can try eating more probiotic foods, which at least one study has shown might help with anxiety. But remember that, at this point, researchers are still working out exactly how your gut bacteria really play into these conditions. So, a chat with your doctor along with that Greek yogurt is probably a good idea.