Irritable Bowel Syndrome
• Spastic Colon
The term IBS is used to describe chronic colon problems that occur in the absence of an identifiable medical cause. Common symptoms include alternating diarrhea and constipation, excess intestinal gas, intestinal cramping, uncomfortable bowel movements, abdominal discomfort following meals, and excessive awareness of the presence of stool in the colon. Despite all these distressing symptoms, in IBS, the intestines appear to be perfectly healthy when they are examined. Thus the condition belongs to a category of diseases that physicians call “functional.” This means that while the function of the bowel seems to have gone awry, no injury or disturbance of its structure can be discovered. (The analogous problem in the stomach is called
Because the cause of IBS is not understood, conventional medical treatment of IBS is highly inadequate. One drug that had shown promise, Zelnorm, was withdrawn from the market for safety issues. Another, Lotronex, was temporarily withdrawn, and then re-approved, but only under strict limitations.
Other medical treatment approaches for IBS include increased dietary fiber, drugs that reduce bowel spasm, and drugs to address constipation or diarrhea as needed. In addition, various forms of psychotherapy, including hypnosis, have been tried, with some success.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Peppermint oil is widely used for IBS, and the evidence suggests that it is probably useful. At least 9 out of 13
studies found peppermint oil more effective than placebo.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
For example, in a 6-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 274 people with constipation-predominant IBS, in which constipation is a more significant symptom than diarrhea, use of a probiotic formula containing
significantly reduced discomfort and increased stool frequency.
Another study examined the effects of 4 weeks treatment with
on intestinal gas in 60 people with IBS. This study found benefits that persisted for an entire year after treatment stopped.
Benefits were seen in 8 other small, double-blind trials as well, using
However, there have been a number of negative studies as well.
Two studies that pooled previous randomized trials on the use of probiotics for IBS came to similar conclusions: probiotics appear to offer some benefit, most notably for global symptoms and abdominal discomfort. However, these two studies were unable to determine which probiotic species were most effective.
For more information, see the full
In a double-blind study, 55 people with chronic constipation caused by IBS received either ground flaxseed or psyllium seed (a well-known treatment for constipation) daily for 3 months.
For more information, see the
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese herbal medicine is traditionally practiced in a highly individualized way, with herbal formulas tailored to the exact details of each person’s case. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 116 people with IBS were randomly assigned to receive individualized Chinese herbal treatment, a “one-size-fits-all” Chinese herbal formulation, or placebo.
For more information on this complex medical system, including important safety issues, see the
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
One study found evidence that pancreatic digestive enzymes (including proteolytic enzymes
Three small studies suggest that use of the supplement
The prebiotic supplement
For a discussion of homeopathic approaches to irritable bowel syndrome, see the
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Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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