Some Soothing Solutions for an Irritating Bowel Problem

Q. <font SIZE=”2″ face=”Arial”>I think I have irritable bowel syndrome. What advice can you offer? <font SIZE=”2″>

A. <font SIZE="2" face=”Arial”>If you experience crampy abdominal pain, gas, bloating, feelings of incomplete evacuation and more than occasional bouts of diarrhea, constipation or a combination of the two, you may indeed have an irritable bowel. If so, you’re not alone. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also known as spastic colon, affects 35 million Americans.

IBS is a functional disorder, meaning there’s no underlying physical disease. Nor does it lead to permanent damage or cancer. No one knows for sure what causes IBS, but many physicians believe it is triggered by psychological factors and stress (the gut, after all, is strongly linked to the brain). Fluctuating female hormones, lack of exercise and certain foods may also cause flare-ups.

IBS symptoms, which range from slightly annoying to disabling, occur when the gut spasms inappropriately. This alters how fast food moves through the digestive tract, causing either constipation or diarrhea. Moreover, IBS sufferers seem to have more sensitive intestinal nerves, making even normal contractions painful. People with IBS may also produce more gas than others.

Two recent studies examined differing treatments. In one, four of six IBS sufferers found relief within two weeks by eliminating from their diets all grains (except rice), dairy foods and red meat, and limiting intake of yeast, citrus and caffeine. But cutting out all grains is drastic. EN recommends eliminating one type of grain at a time to see if symptoms improve.

In another study, Australian researchers evaluated Chinese herbs. Of 99 people with IBS, those who took a standard Chinese herbal formula specifically for IBS (consisting of 20 herbs) for four months fared significantly better than those taking a placebo. But don’t try this on your own; look for a qualified Chinese herbalist.

The good news is that IBS can be fairly well-managed by diet and stress reduction. Here’s what might help:

  • Pay attention to which foods bother you and avoid them. To help identify them, keep a detailed food diary, noting when symptoms arise. Wheat and the lactose in dairy foods are commonly implicated in IBS. Other common offenders include fatty foods; cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower; beans; sorbitol; caffeine and alcohol.

  • Keep meals low in fat and high in fiber by emphasizing whole grains, fruits and vegetables (unless you have determined any to be a problem). Fiber supplements containing psyllium are often recommended. Wheat bran may worsen symptoms.

  • Though its benefits are unproven, consider enteric-coated capsules of peppermint oil, unless you have heartburn. A recommended dose is one or two capsules, three times a day, between meals.

  • Women’s symptoms may worsen around menstruation. Evening primrose oil or the cheaper black currant seed oil, both rich in gamma-linolenic acid, may help by suppressing prostaglandins that trigger inflammation.

  • Exercise regularly to relieve stress, or try yoga, meditation or hypnosis.

  • If you experience other symptoms like bleeding, fever, weight loss or progressive pain, see your physician.

For more information on IBS, contact the nonprofit International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders at (888) 964-2001, or online at: www.iffgd.org.

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