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Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome 

Anyone can develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a fairly common disorder with a range of symptoms affecting the large intestine.  Although women are twice as likely to be affected as men, IBS can be developed at any time. The onset of the disorder can be triggered by many things, including stress, specific foods and hormone levels.These triggers activate certain genes, causing the muscles of the intestines to abnormally contract, resulting in symptoms such as pain, cramping, bloating, excess gas and diarrhea or constipation. It’s estimated that 10-15 percent of adult Americans have IBS symptoms, but only half have been diagnosed.
Managing IBS 
Due to the wide range of symptoms that IBS can evoke, there are many different options to manage the disorder. People often experiment with the use of laxatives, pain medications, antidepressants, or other drugs to ease their symptoms. It is well-known that such approaches may help - what is less known is how natural health practices like meditation, breathing exercises or diet can be less expensive and safer options to provide relief.

A Mindful Approach to IBS

Meditation has been shown to be one of the leading alternative health options for managing IBS. For example, one study assessed the effect of a mindfulness training group compared to a regular support group. Seventy-five women with IBS were enrolled for the eight-week-long study, being evaluated before and after the treatment and at the three-month follow-up. Researchers found that following the intervention, subjects in the mindfulness group had greater reductions in symptom severity, and this was found again at the three-month follow-up. The mindfulness group was also found to have greater improvements in quality of life and anxiety. Keefer and Blanchard followed participants from a previous meditation study to determine if their continued meditation practice had any effects on their IBS. At the one-year follow-up, researchers found that the participants continued to show reductions in abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence and bloating - a significant finding as pain and bloating are reported to be the most distressing symptoms of IBS. 

Meditation May Alter Genes Involved with IBS

Kuo and colleagues at Harvard recently uncovered one of the ways meditation has been able to relieve symptoms of IBS. As previously mentioned, certain genes can become activated, which can prompt inflammatory cells and the intestine’s immune system, resulting in symptoms. The Harvard researchers assessed the effects on the genes involved in IBS after a nine-week mind-body group intervention involving meditation, yoga, Tai Chi and mind/body counselling. Post-intervention, they found that the expression of 119 genes involved with IBS were altered. This altered expression likely explains participants’ resulting reductions in symptom severity and anxiety as well as scores indicating increased quality of life after the treatment.

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