Irritable bowel syndrome can be painful and embarrassing. Luckily, natural treatments such as probiotics are offering sufferers real relief.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is among the most common disorders in North America, with 10 to 15 percent of the population reporting its symptoms.
Cramping, bloating, excessive gas, diarrhea, and constipation are all symptoms of this embarrassing and often debilitating condition.
Recognizing that IBS is a syndrome as opposed to a disease is the first step toward understanding how to treat it. A disease has a known cause and can be targeted and often cured in many instances. A syndrome, however, is characterized by a group of symptoms that often occur together but without a known cause.
With the sensory and motor nerves of the gastrointestinal tract numbering second only to the brain and spinal cord, it was often believed that nervous system malfunction relating to digestion was a potential cause of IBS.
Prescription trial and error
The drug tegaserod, a motility stimulant that triggers peristalsis (smooth muscle contractions that propel nutrients through the intestines), became popular in the last decade but was pulled from the shelves following reports of heart attack and stroke.
Today, prescription antidepressant drugs are recommended for the relief of IBS with some success, though it is too early to know if long-term adverse effects may develop.
This trial-and-error model for symptomatic relief has led sufferers of IBS to search for alternative remedies free of harmful side effects and risk of addiction.
Bacteria is good for you
With the success that probiotic supplementation has shown with preventing diarrhea in patients taking broad-spectrum antibiotics, large-dose probiotic treatment is being recognized as a promising form of relief from many symptoms associated with IBS.
Potentially pathogenic gram-negative bacteria belonging to the genera Escherichia, Salmonella, and Shigella, for example, can thrive with or without the presence of oxygen within the intestines and cause the bloating, diarrhea, and discomfort associated with IBS.
Probiotic supplements delivered in therapeutic doses may replenish the often ravaged probiotic populations within the intestines to offer relief from IBS. Look for probiotics containing species belonging to the genera Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Streptococcus.
Maintenance versus intervention
Probiotic supplements for maintaining good health, including vitamin synthesis within the intestines, immune system function, and improved digestion, are available in many forms, including yogourt and enteric-coated capsules.
Probiotics formulated for use in treating the symptoms of IBS should be administered with the protection of enteric coating and the benefit of prebiotics (oligosaccharides) to ensure that the probiotics arrive alive and have the nutrients necessary to promote colony formation.
There is no known cure for IBS; however, the therapeutic use of prebiotics and probiotics offer a side-effect-free, natural alternative for coping with its symptoms.