What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an extremely common functional gastrointestinal disorder (FGID). It is characterised by chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, and alteration of bowel habits i.e. diarrhoea or constipation - it is tough to live with and tough to treat.
What causes it?
The exact cause of IBS is still unknown. It is not a pathological condition, i.e. there is no underlying disease process but the bowel fails to function properly. A common theory is that IBS is a disorder of the interaction between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract, another theory is that for at least some individuals there are abnormalities in the gut bacteria which results in inflammation and altered bowel function.
Where the experts agree is that it is related to an increased sensitivity of the entire gut. This can be caused by:
- a change in your body's ability to move food through your digestive system
- becoming more sensitive to pain from your gut
- psychological factors
- an episode of food poisoning
What is the treatment?
Although there is no cure for IBS and no prescription drugs that treat it, there are treatments that attempt to relieve the symptoms, including medications and psychological interventions. Changing diet and lifestyle, and understanding the nature of the condition also helps to manage it effectively. Researchers today believe that the most effective treatment comes in the form of Peppermint Oil.
The role of Peppermint Oil
Peppermint has a long tradition of herbal use and has been used by the Egyptians, Greeks, and the Europeans for medicinal purposes.
Peppermint Oil is very versatile in the treatment of intestinal issues in general - it can be used in the treatment of intestinal infections, IBS, chronic functional abdominal pain (CFAP) and inflammatory bowel diseases. It also helps in the relief of chronic constipation.
Peppermint Oil has been studied extensively for its use in the treatment of IBS and other intestinal disorders. In one of the larger studies, 110 people with IBS were given either peppermint oil or placebo 3-4 times daily, 15 to 30 minutes before meals, for 4 weeks. The results showed significant improvements in abdominal pain, bloating, stool frequency, and flatulence. In a similar study, people who took peppermint oil capsules for 8 weeks also had less abdominal pain and discomfort compared to the placebo group.
Peppermint Oil has anti-spasmodic properties due to its ability to block calcium channels of intestinal smooth muscles. The supplement has been shown to be more effective at easing symptoms than prescribed muscle relaxants or fibre. The results are reported to have been so convincing that researchers have recommended that an update to national and international treatment guidelines be made.
Peppermint Oil is also thought to act through a specific anti-pain channel called TRPM8 to reduce pain-sensing fibres, in effect it increases the pain threshold by activating k-opioid and TRPM8 receptors. Studies have shown that TRPM8 receptors that are activated in the intestinal tract correctly modulate inflammatory responses and can help to correct an overactive immune system in people suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases including IBS.
Regulates Bowel Movements
Peppermint Oil has been seen to eliminate opportunistic bacteria in the colon and/or small intestine that have been linked to one of the possible causes of IBS. Using a Peppermint Oil supplement for a short period may produce loose stools and help relieve constipation. The mechanism of action for the loosening of stools may be that menthol is a mild irritant to the intestines and causes the intestines to absorb more water, causing it to act as an osmotic laxative thereby loosening stools. A reverse reaction may occur in people who have IBS in that the Peppermint Oil may reduce intestinal spams and regulate bowel movements so that diarrhoea is instead relieved.
While not as strong as the oil, peppermint tea is an effectively way to provide relief to occasional stomach discomfort, gas pains, and digestive issues.
A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.