Johns Hopkins Health Alert
Probiotics and Hypnosis: Two Promising Complementary Therapies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Many people turn to complementary therapies, such as herbs, meditation, or yoga, when they have a disease that is difficult to treat. Irritable bowel syndrome is one of them -- symptoms are distressing, few treatments exist, and the treatments that are available often provide insufficient symptom relief and sometimes life-threatening side effects.
But is there any evidence that complementary therapies are safe and effective for irritable bowel syndrome? Here's what we know about two nontraditional therapies often touted for irritable bowel syndrome.
Probiotics for irritable bowel syndrome: A wide variety of bacteria (called intestinal flora) live in your large intestine. These bacteria help regulate motility, immune function, and fluid secretion in the intestine. But if one type of bacterium starts to proliferate, irritable bowel syndrome symptoms may occur. Probiotics -- supplements that contain live strains of bacteria and yeast -- may help keep your intestinal flora in balance.
Results from one study showed that women with irritable bowel syndrome who took the probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis 35625 for four weeks noticed improvements in their bowel movements: Women who were constipated started having more bowel movements and women with diarrhea started having fewer. Women who took a placebo had no significant improvements.
One commonly used probiotic is Saccharomyces boulardii, a yeast culture in capsule form (Florastor). Another type, Lactobacillus acidophilus, is a bacterium found in yogurt. The most effective dose appears to be 10 billion live L. acidophilusbacteria. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to tell which yogurts contain this amount. Dannon Activia is the first probiotic yogurt on the market; it contains 10 billion live bacteria in a 4-oz serving. If you don't want to eat yogurt, L. acidophilus is also available in capsules (take 1.5 g per day).
Probiotics have few side effects when taken at recommended doses. In the beginning, you may experience some abdominal discomfort or gas, but these side effects usually go away with continued use. Avoid taking L. acidophilus if you have a weakened immune system, intestinal damage, or overgrowth of intestinal bacteria.
Hypnosis for irritable bowel syndrome: The most promising alternative therapy for irritable bowel syndrome is gut-directed hypnosis (also called hypnotherapy). During a series of weekly sessions, a therapist guides you through relaxation exercises. When you reach a state of deep relaxation, the therapist suggests imagery and sensations to help you with specific symptoms. In a recent study, about 70% of 250 people with irritable bowel syndrome had at least a moderate improvement in their symptoms with hypnotherapy. The participants also reported needing less medication and fewer doctor visits. Another study found that 80% of those who responded to hypnotherapy maintained their improvement for up to six years.
Hypnotherapy likely works by relaxing smooth muscles and relieving psychological stress, both of which may alleviate symptoms. If you're interested in hypnotherapy, it's important to find a therapist who specializes in irritable bowel syndrome. Your gastroenterologist may be able to recommend someone.
Posted in Digestive Health on June 22, 2009
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