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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

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Combination of Therapies Offers Help for IBS

Combining conventional and complementary therapies may provide relief for irritable bowel syndrome sufferers.

Dietary Supplements

Brasco also recommends dietary supplements for his IBS patients, specifically digestive enzymes and probiotics. Digestive enzymes -- which usually contain such ingredients as amylase, lactase, protease, and lipase -- enhance the digestive process, easing not only the symptoms of IBS but also chronic indigestion. They can be found in health food stores and some pharmacies (or direct-to-consumer through pharmaceutical companies), and can be bought without a prescription.

Probiotics are important to intestinal health for changing intestinal flora. Probiotics are dietary supplements containing friendly bacteria. The scientific literature regarding the benefits of probiotics is "mixed," says Brasco, but among his own patients he says they are "invaluable."

Kelly Dowhower Karpa, PhD, RPh, assistant professor in the department of pharmacology at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, and author of Bacteria for Breakfast, says that probiotics replace the "bad" bacteria in your intestines with "healthy" ones, and have been used to successfully treat both constipation- and diarrhea-predominant IBS.

"Ideally, we'd eat enough healthy bacteria in our diets through fermented foods (miso, kim-chee, sauerkraut, beet juice, etc.) like our ancestors did," says Karpa. "But since most of us don't eat that healthy, we can use probiotic supplements to fill in the gaps."

Most probiotics should be taken one hour prior to meals, or two to three hours after meals, Karpa advises.

"If a patient is extremely immunocompromised, probiotics should be used cautiously," says Karpa. "Otherwise, there are really no adverse effects, with the possible exception of feeling a little gas within the first week of taking them. Although annoying, the gas is actually a good thing since it means the 'bad' bacteria are dying off."

For relief of cramps, Brasco also suggests peppermint for its antispasmodic effects, taken as a tea, tincture, lozenge, or oil (put a drop or two on your tongue). Chamomile is another herb with antispasmodic properties, Brasco says.

A new treatment for the dietary management of IBS is a medical food, known as Digestive AdvantageT IBS, which is a blend of the bacteria lactobacillus with proteins that normalizes intestinal bacteria and aids digestion of dairy, fruits, meats, and carbohydrates. Developed by Ganeden Biotech, Digestive Advantage is an "ongoing management tool," says chief scientific officer Sean Farmer, MS.

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