Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines, a class of medications primarily used for treating anxiety, insomnia, and other neurological issues, is often fraught with a variety of symptoms. While many people are familiar with psychological symptoms such as anxiety, panic, and insomnia, the physical manifestations of withdrawal can also be daunting. One such discomfort many individuals experience is gastric pain and bloating, commonly referred to as “Benzo Belly.” This post explores the common constellation of symptoms comprising benzo belly and some coping tips.
What is Benzo Belly?
“Benzo Belly” is used colloquially to describe a constellation of digestive issues arising during benzodiazepine withdrawal. These may include, but are not limited to, gastric pain, gas, burning, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and indigestion. The symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe pain and significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. Often, tests do not reveal anything structurally or mechanically wrong. Doctors are perplexed as to what causes the intense bloating and pain. Some people’s bellies become so distended that they look nine months pregnant.
- Eating smaller meals more frequently
- Focusing on plant-based foods for fiber and HDAC inhibitors that can help restore GABA receptors.
- Staying well hydrated
- Gentle stretching, Yoga, easy walking, and swimming
- Heating pad
- Gently (not too much pressure) massage the stomach area in a clockwise motion.
- Gentle full-body massage
- Glycerine suppositories, Fleet enemas, and stool softeners can help with severe constipation.
- Mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation exercises
- Some prebiotics
- Use with caution:
- Probiotics (they can rev up symptoms)
- Fermented foods (although very healthy and healing, can rev up some symptoms)
- Avoid, if possible:
It’s been reported in the benzo community that parasites can cause severe gastro issues. One client has been treated for parasites and saw them pass out of their body and into the toilet! It is good to have a thorough check-up to rule out causes that we may not automatically think of.
The Neurobiological Connection
The complex relationship between the brain and gut is worth exploring to understand why gastric symptoms are prevalent during benzodiazepine withdrawal. Benzodiazepines work by acting on the GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) receptors in the brain, enhancing the inhibitory neurotransmitter’s effects and producing a calming sensation. These receptors are not exclusive to the brain; they are also found in the enteric nervous system, often called the “second brain,” which governs gastrointestinal function.
When benzodiazepines are withdrawn, the decreased activation of GABA receptors can send both the central and enteric nervous systems into a state of hyperactivity. This can manifest as changes in gut motility, spasms, and overall digestive dysfunction.
Tapering off your benzo slowly, listening to your body, and being patient. A daily micro taper is sometimes the most gentle way to get benzo-free. YouTube videos are showing how to taper. You can also ask your doctor to compound your medication to reduce slowly. The Ashton Manual is the gold standard for tapering suggestions but is too fast for some individuals. It suggests crossing over to Valium, but now we don’t encourage that unless someone is having difficulties on a short-acting benzo.
Gut Microbiome: An Additional Layer
Recent research into the gut-brain axis suggests that our gut microbiome, the complex ecosystem of bacteria residing in our intestines, also plays a role in our neurological and psychological well-being. The alteration of gut flora, which medications like benzodiazepines can impact, may contribute to digestive issues and even exacerbate withdrawal symptoms. Scientists say that we are as healthy as our gut; that it is the foundation for all of our health, so it is essential that we take proper care of our gut. (The ‘gut’ starts at our mouth and ends at our anus— it includes the entire length of our digestive process.)
Since dietary choices significantly affect the gut microbiome, nutritional approaches to manage Benzo Belly are worth considering. A fiber-rich diet, pre and pro-biotics, and plant-based foods can alleviate some digestive symptoms. Some people report that taking digestive enzymes is helpful. Ensuring that your body metabolizes nutrients is important; blood tests can help determine if you have any deficiencies. Some people react to pro-biotic supplements and foods; test and learn how you respond.
Future Research and Conclusions
The mechanisms behind Benzo Belly are complex and still not fully understood. Ongoing neurobiology, psychology, and gut microbiome science research will likely offer more insights into managing these symptoms effectively. It’s critical to acknowledge the profound connection between our neurological and gastrointestinal systems and consider a holistic approach to treating benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms.
While gastric pain and Benzo Belly are uncomfortable and sometimes distressing, understanding the underlying mechanisms and potential interventions can empower you to take proactive steps toward relief. Always consult a licensed medical provider if you have any concerns about your gastro symptoms, but remember that they may not be benzo-wise.
We do recover from benzo withdrawal/BIND. Our stomachs deflate. Our intestines relax. Our bowels return to normal functioning. But we can help ourselves by embracing the four cornerstones of well-being: eat right, move enough, stress less, and love well.
Add Your Voice
What are your Benzo Belly symptoms? What has helped? Please leave a comment.