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Easing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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From diarrhea to constipation (sometimes alternating between the two) and including abdominal cramps, gas and bloating, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is less-than-pleasant, at the very least.

While the good news is that IBS does not appear to damage the colon or increase the risk of intestinal bleeding or colon cancer, it is still a major health concern for 10-20% of Americans. Those individuals with fibromyalgia are especially prone to developing IBS, and it is not uncommon among those with CFS. The frustrating fact is that doctors are unsure of the cause of IBS, but they do believe that diet and psychological factors can exacerbate its symptoms.

Calling on the wisdom of different treatment modalities, listed below are various choices for easing irritable bowel syndrome.

Western Medicine

Physicians estimate that IBS is responsible for about half of all visits to gastroenterologists. They report that those with IBS are sensitive to changes in diet, hormone levels, stress and other emotional factors, and may show signs of bowel hypersensitivity. General recommendations usually include keeping a food diary, limiting dairy consumption and adding more fiber-rich foods to the diet. Antidiarrheal drugs such as Lomotil or Immodium may help, as may prescription drugs to relive spasm of the colon. Sometimes tricyclic antidepressants like amitryptiline or trazadone are prescribed, since they have shown to relieve bowel symptoms.

For those whose symptoms are constipation, a suggestion to incorporate more prune juice, other juices and water may be made.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

A recent study* of 116 people with IBS participated in a double-blind, placebo controlled study to test the effectiveness of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) on the disorder. Patients were given either a standard Chinese medicine for functional bowel disorders, a specialized herbal blend for their specific symptoms or a placebo. Published in the November 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the results found 44% of patients on the standard formula and 42% on the specialized formula reported a decrease in symptoms, compared with a 20% decrease on those taking placebo. When those same results were analyzed by a gastroenterologist, it was found that almost 60% in the standard treatment group and about 40% in the specialized treatment group actually showed improvement, compared with 19% receiving placebo. Such treatments should always be prescribed by a certified TCM practitioner.

Herbal Therapy

There are a variety of herbal choices to lesson specific symptoms of IBS. Peppermint oil works as a carminative (meaning it reduces gas production) and some individuals with IBS have found relief taking peppermint oil supplements. Look for capsules yielding 0.2 ml of peppermint oil that are enteric coated; this coating will protect the oil as is passes through the acidic environment of the stomach so that it can go to work in the intestinal tract.

Chamomile also works as a carminative, and in addition works to tone and has been found helpful for those who experience alternate bouts of diarrhea and constipation. Other carminative herbs include fennel seeds, caraway seeds, and wormwood.

Psyllium, a bulk forming laxative, is often used for those with IBS for its benefit in normalizing bowel activity and easing the constipation/diarrhea cycle.

For some, IBS is the result of a specific issue, such as lactose intolerance. For those, supplementation with the lactase enzyme prior to dairy product consumption may be helpful.

*Study reference: Archives of Internal Medicine 163, 3:265-74, 2003.

Sources: onhealth.com and healthshop.com.

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