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Peppermint and Probiotics for IBS

Peppermint and Probiotics for IBS
Close-up shoot of green peppermint plant. Short depth of field. mint peppermint oil

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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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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