Do you suffer from chronic abdominal pain, bloating, gas, stomach cramps, diarrhea and constipation?
If so, there’s a good chance the diagnosis is ‘Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This condition is one of the most commonly diagnosed problems in this country. However, most people are treating it the wrong way, destroying their bowels with laxatives. It’s smarter to use natural therapy.
Dr. Linda Lee, professor of gastroenterology at Johns Hopkins University, says that when patients complain of IBS symptoms she first rules out serious disease such as stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis and bowel malignancies. These more serious problems are more likely to be present if patients also complain of weight loss, being wakened by pain, or seeing blood in the stool.
Dr. Lee usually starts treatment by cutting out foods that may be difficult to process and are upsetting the GI tract. For instance, some people may be sensitive to even small amounts of gas production. As we get older the body manufactures lesser amounts of lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, a carbohydrate present in milk products. These unabsorbed carbohydrates reach the colon where bacteria ferment them and produce gas. This solution, cutting down on milk products, can make a huge impact on abdominal discomfort.
Lee adds that if lactose intolerance isn’t the problem, she then checks to see if the symptoms are due to celiac disease, an allergy to gluten. This protein is present in many grains. The GI tract can also have difficulty absorbing other carbohydrates such as fructose. Patients with this problem should avoid soda and packaged goods such as cookies.
Do you love beans, but know they are notorious for producing large amounts of flatus? So you make a point of saying “no” to beans, fearing that you might expel flatus at a most inconvenient time? If that’s the case there’s a unique way to circumvent this embarrassment.
Dr. Lee says that beans contain raffinose. It’s the culprit for such eruptions. But she adds that beans are a healthy food and that there’s no reason to remove them from your diet. Rather, there’s a simple way to destroy the gas beans produce. Just soak beans in water with a little baking soda. This draws out the raffinose. Then toss out the water.
Another solution is to take Beano, an enzyme supplement. This product decreases the amount of gas by breaking down poorly absorbed carbohydrates.
Have you ever wondered why mints are traditionally offered after meals? For patients who still have problems, Lee prescribes an antispasmodic which relaxes intestinal muscles. She says the best natural one is peppermint. Artificially flavoured mint candy won’t work, but peppermint oil supplements may help IBS patients.
What about the use of friendly probiotic bacteria? Studies show that some people are helped by this approach. But there are so many unregulated products on the market that it’s hard to assess their effectiveness. Yogurt contains organisms that may ease symptoms and is a good alternative to probiotic bacteria. In fact, yogurt can be taken by those suffering from lactose intolerance, as it contains bacteria that break down lactose.
Dr. Lee is also an advocate of mind-body therapy, as many patients with IBS suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders. She reports that there’s some evidence that biofeedback, acupuncture and relaxing CDs used during hypnosis can help to tame an uptight bowel.
There is no doubt that anxiety has a major effect on bowel function. Napoleon Bonaparte, on one occasion, required a soldier for a dangerous assignment. The story goes that he ordered several soldiers to face a firing squad. He chose the one who, in the face of death, showed no tendency to move his bowels.
In our pill plagued society, I’m in favour of anything that circumvents medication and poses no risk.
But remember to see your doctor when you notice a change in bowel habits. Some people leave this planet prematurely because they want to believe bleeding with a bowel movement is due to hemorrhoids. But it could be a bowel malignancy. And never procrastinate when problems occur. Saying you’ll do it “one of these days” usually means none of these days.
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