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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 continued...

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.

Stress Reduction

Another essential part of treating IBS is stress management, says Jay Winner, MD, author of Stress Management Made Simple: Effective Ways to Beat Stress for Better Health. "Stress tends to make IBS worse," says Winner. Relaxation exercises that use "diaphragmatic breathing" seem particularly effective in improving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. To practice such an exercise, he says, gently let your abdomen expand with each breath in. As thoughts arise, let them go and focus back on your breath.

Other stress-reduction remedies range from a simple walk around the block -- recommended by Brasco -- to yoga, meditation, biofeedback, and hypnosis. Herb Hamilton, CHT, has been treating IBS sufferers through both hypnosis and dietary management for more than 10 years. Hamilton recommends that his IBS patients eat five small meals a day, reduce the fat in their diet, and avoid alcohol, caffeine, and sodium, all of which, he says, can trigger episodes of IBS.

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