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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Going Natural continued...

Peppermint oil: This works by relaxing the smooth muscle in the intestines, reducing painful spasms. Many IBS sufferers get significant relief from the minty supplements (available in natural foods stores); they're more likely to help if you suffer from diarrhea, but "still worth a try if you have constipation," says Nicholas J. Talley, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, and one of the authors of a multicenter review of peppermint oil. The dose found helpful in most studies was about a 0.2 ml gel capsule two to three times a day. It may take a week to feel better, says Dr. Talley, who also notes that if you tend to have frequent heartburn, peppermint oil may make it worse. (If so, simply stop taking.)

Fiber supplements: Soluble-fiber products that contain the plant husk psyllium (Metamucil, Fiberall, Perdiem Fiber) can reduce pain and make bathroom visits more regular. Psyllium is like a sponge — it draws water into hard stools, softening them in cases of constipation. But it also absorbs water in loose stools, firming them if you suffer from diarrhea. So that you don't become bloated and gassy, start with one-quarter of the dose on the package, then work your way up to the full measure over the course of four to eight weeks.

Probiotics: These "good" bacteria help restore a healthy intestinal environment, reducing gas, bloating, and pain. One strain — Bifidobacterium infantis — appears to be especially beneficial, studies involving more than 1,350 men and women have shown. You can find B.infantis in capsules at most pharmacies and natural foods stores. Certain kinds of yogurt — Dannon's Activia, and Stonyfield Farm — contain probiotics, too, and may be worth a try, although they don't claim to help IBS.

Stress control: Learning to cope with tension can make a huge difference. Therapy is one way, but using stress-busting skills like muscle relaxation and learning to control negative thoughts worked about as well in a 10-week University at Buffalo study. These reduced pain and other symptoms in over 70 percent of participants.

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