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Feeling Hormonal?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) continued...

To restore balance: Paxil, a drug designed to treat anxiety and depression by upping serotonin levels in the brain, can also help relieve IBS for patients with tough-to-treat symptoms — even when they're not depressed, according to a study of 110 IBS sufferers conducted by Arnold. "Considering the amount of serotonin being produced in the intestine, we think Paxil must be doing something to the nerves in the gastrointestinal tract," he says. More than 60 percent of Paxil-takers in his study had fewer IBS symptoms — and a brighter outlook on life — compared with 26 percent of placebo-takers.

But before you call your doctor for a prescription, try increasing the fiber in your diet. In phase one of Arnold's study, one in four IBS sufferers reduced pain and bloating and felt much better after simply eating 25 grams of fiber a day, which is the USDA-recommended dose. Although fiber may or may not influence the hormones in the gut (no one knows for sure), it does help expand the diameter of the large and small intestines, which eases painful muscle contractions, according to Arnold. Try adding oatmeal and other whole grains, plus raw fruits and vegetables, to your daily diet.

Persistent Fatigue

Sure, we all have those days when we'd give anything for a midday nap — even if it meant crawling under our desks. But if you struggle daily with feeling sluggish and having zero energy — particularly if you've gained 10 to 20 pounds that you just can't shake no matter how little you eat — you could be suffering from a lack of thyroid hormone, a condition called hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormones control the body's metabolism, and when supplies are short, all systems slow down, including heart rate, mental functioning, and digestion. That's why hypothyroidism can leave a person feeling exhausted, drained, mentally foggy, even constipated. It's thought to affect at least 15 million adults nationwide, targeting 10 times more women than men, according to psychiatrist Louann Brizendine, M.D., director of the Women's and Teen Girl's Mood & Hormone Clinic at the University of California, San Francisco. And up to two thirds of cases go undiagnosed for several years because the symptoms are often dismissed as a side effect of stress.

To restore balance: Ask your doctor about getting your thyroid hormone levels checked, and be proactive about getting thyroid hormone replacement therapy if you need it. "There is some disagreement among doctors about treating subclinical hypothyroidism, since in past generations thyroid hormone was overprescribed, and too much of it can aggravate any underlying heart conditions," says Brizendine. "But in my experience, if you have symptoms of fatigue, depression, and anxiety that coincide with abnormal thyroid levels, you should seek treatment." Finding a doctor who will take these (and any other) mysterious symptoms seriously can deliver much-deserved relief.

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