There is good news for the millions of suffering with irritable bowel syndrome. In a review published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, researchers unearthed the possible link between irritable bowel and bacterial infections or alterations in the normal bacterial flora. This may explain the abdominal pain, excessive gas, diarrhea and/or constipation associated with the condition. More importantly, this exciting breakthrough may provide new and effective treatment options, improving the quality of life for adults throughout the country. The contents of your bowel, from the mouth to the rectum, are completely outside of the body encased in your digestive system. Throughout life, these contents contain a delicate and complex mix of bacteria, viruses and even some fungi. There are as many as 500 to 1,000 species of bugs in the bowel that are critically important to normal physiological function. These bacteria help destroy toxins in the bowel, produce vital nutrients, and assure that the bowel content appropriately forms fecal matter and that gas production is kept at a minimum. Anything that upsets this delicate balance -- such as replacing good bacteria with bad -- can lead to a dysfunctional bowel, the symptoms of irritable bowel and even nutritional deficiencies. Oftentimes, antibiotics that are prescribed for the treatment of infections, or even antibiotics in the meat we eat, can destroy normal bacteria. Killing off the good bacteria leaves a void that can be quickly filled with "bad bugs," which may irritate the bowel, cause increased production of gas, lead to alterations in the immune system and cause abdominal pain or alteration of bowel movements. Excessive antibiotic use can even lead to a medical condition called "small intestinal bacterial overgrowth" that has symptoms very similar to irritable bowel, but it can also cause malabsorption, weight loss and severe vitamin B-12 deficiency. Traditionally, irritable bowel has been associated with a variety of health concerns, including excess stress, depression, hormonal alterations and increased food sensitivities. However, there is now evidence indicating that the initial symptoms of irritable bowel frequently follow a case of gastroenteritis. After an episode of nausea and diarrhea that lasts longer than seven days, symptoms identical to those of irritable bowel may last for six months and sometimes indefinitely. In some cases, there is a continued presence of a parasite that may cause irritable bowel. The most common parasite that leads to irritable bowel symptoms is giardia, but another bacteria called Blastocystis hominis has been recently identified as a potential cause. Occasionally, irritable bowel can follow an episode of diarrhea that occurs abroad (traveler's diarrhea). Research now clearly shows that the mix of bacteria in the bowels of patients with irritable bowel is different from normal people. Patients with irritable bowel have bowels that contain fewer lactobacilli and other normal bacteria, which produce less gas. The lactobacilli are replaced by bugs that create more methane and greater amounts of hydrogen gas, which can in turn affect bowel motility. Any change in the mixture of bugs in the bowel can produce unusual molecules that affect the ability of the bowel to contract normally. In addition to excess gas production, these bugs are considered foreign to the body (unlike the normal bacteria flora). In an attempt to destroy the abnormal organisms, the intestinal immune system releases molecules called cytokines that cause the bowel to become hyperactive and inflamed, resulting in pain and further changes in bowel movements. There has been research conducted in Asia that examines the use of probiotics (good bugs) to aid in alleviating the symptoms of irritable bowel. When administered in adequate amounts, these probiotics (live bacteria) appear to be beneficial in reducing bloating, gas, abdominal pain and constipation. For someone with irritable bowel, it is important to consider the fact that excessive use of antibiotics can contribute to the problem. But in addition to examining any medical issues, you may want to consider a safe probiotic food to help maintain a normal bowel flora. This simple change in diet could relieve symptoms of irritable bowel. Clearly, this condition is more than a disease related to stress, depression, anxiety or hormonal alterations. While this research remains in its infancy, it seems likely that more and more attention will be focused on the link between irritable bowel and bacteria.
Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the books, "Breaking the Rules of Aging" and "Dr. David's First Health Book of More Not Less." To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. More information is available at www.DrDavidHealth.com.
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