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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Going Natural continued...

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.

Exercise: In an English study of IBS sufferers, those who walked or did other moderate workouts for 30 minutes five times a week reported a significant improvement in constipation symptoms. Exercise stimulates contractions of the bowel, encouraging the passing of gas and wastes.

And don't forget diet: For up to 65 percent of IBS patients, flare-ups are linked to food — especially fatty and greasy items, chocolate, carbonated beverages, and alcohol. Still, because different foods kick up symptoms in different sufferers, there's no one-size-fits-all "IBS diet plan." To see what sets off your troubles, keep a food and symptom diary for several weeks, then confirm any suspicious item by eliminating it from your diet for a few weeks. You might want to do the same with dairy products; about 35 percent of IBS sufferers are lactose-intolerant and develop IBS-like symptoms after eating dairy.

When You Need Something Stronger
If OTC and natural strategies aren't helping enough, ask your doctor about prescription medications.

Antispasmodics for cramping: These drugs act on the smooth muscle of the colon, easing intestinal spasms and pain for about one in five IBS sufferers, a recent review of 22 trials showed. The antispasmodic that had the best record was hyoscine. Since it's not generally available in the U.S., try the similar hyoscyamine (Anaspaz, Levsin). Downsides: Antispasmodics can make you dizzy and blur your vision, so don't drive until you know how you react.

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