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Peppermint and Probiotics for IBS

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Q. I have had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for two years. I have constipation (can't "go" for a week). When I finally can go, I can't stop. At that point the stool is soft and runny.

I also have cramps, bloating, painful gas and hemorrhoids. When my IBS flares up it is quite debilitating.

I know there are some prescription drugs I could take, but the side effects worry me. Are there any natural remedies for this condition? I'd be grateful for any information you may have about this disorder.

A. Millions of people suffer from symptoms of IBS as you have described them. It can be difficult to diagnose since there is no obvious cause. Celiac disease (an intolerance to gluten found in wheat, rye and barley) should always be ruled out with a blood test.

Several natural approaches have scientific support. Enteric-coated peppermint oil has been shown helpful in controlled trials (BMJ, Nov. 13, 2008). Probiotics and soluble fiber (psyllium) also appear to ease symptoms (Clinical Evidence, Jan. 6, 2012).

Here is a message we received several years ago about the power of peppermint for IBS:

Q. I have had irritable bowel syndrome for more than 25 years. I've tried all sorts of remedies including coconut macaroon cookies. I ate so many I can't stand even looking at them!

Then I remembered you had mentioned special peppermint pills. I found them at the health food store, and they work so fantastically well, I can't believe it.
I have an almost normal life again. You can't go out very much with this disease, especially if the diarrhea is severe as mine was.

A. Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas. One study demonstrated that enteric-coated peppermint oil could significantly reduce such symptoms.

The enteric coating ensures that peppermint oil is delivered to the small intestine, where it helps to ease spasms, instead of to the stomach, where it could aggravate heartburn. It can be purchased at health food stores. One brand name to look for is Pepogest.

We are delighted that peppermint has worked so well for you. Others should check with their doctors or pharmacists before taking this herb. Research shows that peppermint oil can interact with prescription medications in the same way as grapefruit. Blood levels of many medicines could rise, leading to side effects.

The book we are sending you, The People's Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies, describes these and other natural approaches to dealing with digestive distress. It is available online at PeoplesPharmacy.com.

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17 Comments

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IBS is mostly commonly caused by food allergies, wheat, dairy and others. As soon as I eliminated these foods from my diet, no more issues. Have a specialist do a blood test.

I had IBS for years, the doc. didn't know why... finally if find out I have to lactose intolerance. every time I eat cheese or ... I get diarrhea I also have sensitive to tomatoes (which I love) My opinion, you may be sensitive to some food it possible is (new ?) stress? O may be its a reaction to something abnormal -lack of some vitamin/mineral?- in your body. Some fruits and high in fiber veggies can help you to go.

I don't know how people with IBS deal with apples, but I've eaten an apple a day with the skin, core and seeds for over twenty years. Regularity is my middle name.

After cancer treatment, radiation & chemo for cervical cancer, my gut was ruined. Constant runs, that wouldn't respond to prescribed medication. Imodium did help sometimes but I've wound up having to take the max dose of Imodium (6 a day) with Pepto Bismo as well. The Imodium label says only four tablets but our pharmacist said six is OK.

What I started doing several weeks ago is taking a healthy bacteria product called Primal Defense, by Gardens of Life. It has helped tremendously. I'm going to keep on it and hope that my gut finally heals. I just went through a colonoscopy and the colon still shows a lot of damage. I have no idea how long it will take but am very glad to have some days with almost no problem. At least I can go out now without worrying about bathroom availability. Yeah, I still carry Imodium and the pink tablets (Pepto) with me-always.

I had IBS for over 20 years. It ended when I retired. This suggests that chronic stress was the major cause. However acute stress like loss of my job, and my wife having major surgery did not correlate with my IBS symptoms. My main symptom was debilitating abdominal pain that would last for hours.

Some things that could initiate or aggravate my symptoms include:
* Eating or drinking cold things (sherbet, ice cream, ice water, etc.
* Eating large meals.
* Stimulants (caffeine or pseudoephedrine).

Some things that helped are:
* Amitriptyline
* Citrucel (regular kind, the sugar-free kind made me sick)
* Heat applied to abdomen
* Self hypnosis (time consuming and not easy to do)
* Peppermint capsules
* Peppermint tea
* Hyocyamine (brand name Levsin)
* Drinking hot liquid that contained no stimulant and almost zero calories, i.e., chicken broth

Peppermint is fantastic. My daughter and I have used it for several years. But if you want to literally cure the problem, find a way to lower your stress and start taking probiotics. There are many to choose from but I prefer saccharomyces boulardii, made by Jarrow Formulas.

Has the sufferer stopped using all dairy products and coffee?

Good article. Thanks for sharing.

My sister's husband, a doctor, suspected she had Celiac disease many years ago. Instead of taking a blood test, she eliminated all wheat, barley, and rye from her diet. She had quick relief. If readers want to avoid the expense of a visit to the doctor and blood tests, they might try avoiding gluten first and see what happens.

Check the list of medical problems that can be caused by Celiac (Google)and see how many of those you have. If Celiac could be the cause then start a 100% Gluten free diet for three weeks and see if your problems go away. Don't go gluten free If you are going to do the blood test for Celiac because it could make it more unreliable than what they are.

Does enteric coated peppermint irritate the bladder? This would be a concern for those who worry about supplements that worsen bladder incontinence problems.

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE: We couldn't find evidence on this and hope readers will share their experience.

Try looking at IFFGD.org website. I am a lifetime member of this wonderful group. They saved me from a surgery several years ago by referring me to Cleveland Clinic. They have a newsletter w/ all sorts of info about functional GI disorders. Good luck.

Peppermint pills, coated, caused me irritation. "Mentos", however, have worked great; in conjunction with "Accuflora" probiotic. Probiotic was recomended by Gastro doc 4 years ago.

I've had IBS for years and using Metamucil helped somewhat but lately it had been getting worse (going 5-7 times a day).
I began using a 30 billion count probiotic I bought at Whole Foods and gradually things got better. Occasionally I will have a problem but for the most part I am extremely happy with the results. I guess my gut needed more of the good flora.

How much peppermint oil should you use? I tried some coated and with 250mg of oil and they made things worse. Would a smaller dosage work better?

Thanks, JWG

I think I have IBS. It comes and goes with pain, diaherrea or constipation, but also a low grade fever. Is the fever normal?

CHECK TO SEE IF YOU HAVE PARASITES,.. did you go to a gastroenterologist? they should check it out. I have IBS (stress related) BUT DON'T HAVE FIBER, BUT EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT, I AM ALLERGIC TO LACTOSE and probably gluten too. check that to.

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