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The Dirty Little Secret of IBS

No one likes to talk about it—not to their spouses, to their significant others, to their mothers or fathers, to their brothers or sisters, and hardly anyone likes broaching the subject with their doctor. But that cramping urge that has you bolting for the bathroom doesn’t care if you’re in the middle of a work day, at your child’s school play, or if you’re sitting in a court room for jury duty.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is characterized by chronic diarrhea, constipation (or a combination of the two), and can even bring about excessive weight loss. Symptoms also include abdominal cramping, gas, and bloating.

Therapies aimed at IBS have included everything from more fiber, anti-diarrheal medication, a reduction in stressful lifestyles, healthier eating, and avoidance of foods that could produce an allergic reaction. “Some people’s guts are just extremely sensitive,” one internist told me. “Sometimes a fish-head-and-rice diet is all they can tolerate.”

Ugh.

Surely there have to be some better answers out there.

It’s estimated that as many as 15% of Americans suffer from this illness, or one in five adults. It is the leading gastrointestinal disorder reported to general practitioners. Because there’s not a test that positively identifies IBS, the diagnosis is made through exclusion, and illnesses such as diverticulitis or inflammatory bowel disease; infections by parasites, yeast, or bacteria; and lactose intolerance must all be ruled out.

It appears that food sensitivity, food allergy, and stress are leading causes of IBS.  The most common foods reported as intensifying IBS symptoms were dairy and grain. Gas-producing vegetables such as cabbage and beans were also culprits. To find out what foods may be affecting your gut, a process of elimination should be employed. Add a new food each day until you see which ones trigger IBS symptoms.

Herbal remedies that soothe the gut, such as peppermint oil, are used to help reduce abdominal bloating and pain. It’s a great anti-spasmodic. However, it’s important that the peppermint oil be taken as an enteric-coated caplet as they are not digested until they pass through the stomach and into the small intestine. Because peppermint oil is an anti-spasmodic, if it is absorbed within the muscular wall of the stomach, it can cause enough relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter muscle to cause acid reflux and heartburn.

Peppermint oil, if used in excessive doses, can bring on nausea, loss of appetite, heart problems, or even lead to kidney failure and death. Moderation is the key. Follow the directions on the bottle. However, this is definitely an herbal remedy to keep on hand for any kind of stomach upset.

Another tool in the fight to control IBS is the use of probiotics.  Probiotics are the natural “friendly” bacteria that are part of the natural intestinal flora that helps digest and break down your food. Any upset in the delicate balance of this bacterial composition can result in gas and bloating.  Of the many types of bacteria tested in clinical trials, bifidobacterium infantis produced the best results in decreasing the IBS symptoms of patients. Align™ Probiotic Supplement is one well-reviewed source of b. infantis. Pay close attention to the directions however, as some probiotics have a limited shelf life after opening or may even need to be refrigerated.

There are also different modalities that can be used for IBS. Intestinal massage is one, as is acupuncture or hypnotherapy. Many people find that a combination of two or three of the above suggestions helps alleviate their symptoms enough for them to live a normal life.

However, new research, especially on diarrhea-dominant IBS, seems to indicate that a piece of RNA that blocks the activity of the gene that produces glutamine, an amino acid, may play a major part in the hostile intestinal environment that produces diarrhea, gas, bloating, and chronic abdominal pain.

Glutamine is one of 11 amino acids produced by the body and used as one of the building blocks of protein. It provides fuel to the cells of the intestinal tract, helps eliminate ammonia from the body (a waste product of the body), promotes normal brain function, and assists in the immune system.

In those research studies, a group of the RNA-deficient patients also had a condition called “increased intestinal permeability” which allows bacteria and toxins into the gut which normally can’t get in. This infiltration irritates the nerves of the colon, causing the diarrhea and spasms that define this particular type of IBS.

Those patients with increased intestinal permeability showed microRNA-29a levels (the segment of RNA responsible for blocking glutamine) four times higher than the other control groups in the study. This finding is significant in diarrhea-predominant IBS as it makes it clear that the syndrome is not merely psychologically induced from stress overload, but has an actual physical cause.

The good news is that if your IBS is predominately diarrhea, you can supplement with glutamine yourself. The mainstay of exercise buffs and health enthusiasts, glutamine is available in a powder or capsule form, and easy to purchase either online or from a local retailer in your area. The price is quite affordable and the supplement benefits more than just your gut.

Besides, who can put a price on the ability to once again live a normal lifestyle, one not consumed with mapping bathroom locations every time you step out in public?

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