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Alternative Therapies May Help Stomach, Intestinal Problems

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WebMD Health News

Oct. 16, 2000 -- Growing numbers of people with gastrointestinal disorders are turning toward relaxation therapies such as biofeedback and other alternative remedies to treat their conditions, according to two new studies presented this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology in New York.

And, the studies show, many people find these alternative treatments make a difference.

In one study, a biofeedback technique developed by NASA as a therapy for motion sickness among astronauts was found to also be effective for a common civilian problem -- constipation. Biofeedback is a mind-body technique where participants can see and realize their body's responses to stimuli such as pain. Its proponents believe that this helps people modify their body's responses to those stimuli.

Study participants took part in as many as 11 biofeedback sessions. After three specific biofeedback sessions, study participants rated their symptoms including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and bloating as severe, moderate, mild or nonexistent. The researchers also measured activity in the stomach using a device called an electrogastrogram.

After four biofeedback sessions, study participants said that their symptoms improved and improvements were even greater after the eighth session, report researchers led by Hani M.K. Rashed, MD, PhD, of the University of Tennessee in Memphis.

In another study, researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center and George Washington Hospital in Washington, D.C., found that a third of 150 men and women with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), an umbrella term which covers two common bowel diseases called Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, had used alternative therapies. Of these, almost all were also using conventional medications to treat their condition.

Patients reported using fish oil, dietary changes, nutritional supplements, herbs, exercise, massage, yoga, meditation, psychotherapy, biofeedback, and acupuncture. Many people in the study reported feeling better after taking the alternative remedy of their choice, lead researcherMarie Borum, MD, MPH, an associate professor of medicine at Georgetown University, tells WebMD.

"So many patients with IBD are using a variety of alternative therapies," she says. "We were also impressed how frequently they were using things and not telling their physicians, [and] until doctors are aware of what people use, they will not be able to treat patients as effectively.

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