Mastering Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Knowledge is Power
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From enzymes to eating habits, there is hope
Everyone has episodes of digestive discomfort from time-to-time. Unfortunately, some of us experience digestive problems chronically. It’s then that the doctor is seen, and most often, the diagnosis is irritable bowel syndrome, commonly known as IBS. The physician’s recommendations may include a gentle laxative, fiber, water, or anti-diarrheal if necessary. In a more holistic practice, a probiotic, dietary adjustments, or psychotherapeutic and behavioral interventions may be on the list of things to try. But are these really the only options? If you enter the office of an integrative physician, naturopath, or other holistic practitioner, they definitely won’t be!
What’s the pancreas got to do with it?
Digestive secretions of the pancreas are necessary for the appropriate breakdown of food substances into the smaller molecules which the body is able to utilize. Some of the enzymes that are produced by the pancreas are trypsinogen, chymotrypsinogen, carboxypeptidase, and lipase. An enzyme is often named with the similar root of the substance it breaks down. For example, lipase breaks down lipids (fats), and peptidases break down peptides (proteins). The enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, a milk sugar, is not something made by the pancreas, but by the cells lining the small intestine. There are many reasons why the body at times may not have adequate digestive enzyme levels, whether it be genetics, a recent gut bug, or other chronic conditions like celiac or pancreatic disease., Even stress can negatively impact the body’s production of digestive enzymes. For this reason, taking a supplement known as a digestive enzyme may help many individuals improve their digestion.
Digestive secretions of the pancreas are necessary for the appropriate breakdown of food substances into the smaller molecules which the body is able to utilize.
Comprehensive digestive enzymes often include enzymes made by both the pancreas and by other parts of the digestive tract, with a full blend of lipase, lactase, amylase, and protease or peptidase. Alternatives to supplements specifically called digestive enzymes are pancreatic glandulars, bromelain (an enzyme from pineapple), and papain (an enzyme from papaya). Pancreatic glandular substances contain enzymes which the pancreas secretes. Bromelain and papain are enzymes that support protein digestion. Digestive enzymes should be taken slightly before or at the beginning of meals to support digestion.
Just can’t go? (Constipation)
Absolutely everyone has had an experience where their body feels “backed up,” or like they “just can’t go.” Constipation can occur with stress, altered sleep patterns, medications, dietary changes, and dehydration, among many other causes. Certain hormones and neurotransmitters in the body also affect bowel motility, as does the food which we eat. Even digestive secretions from the stomach and gallbladder have an impact further down on motility and if they are low, can lead to the system backing up and constipation. The gut flora has a direct impact, which is why at times a probiotic, antibiotics, or herbal antimicrobials may affect bowel patterns.
In addition to supporting normal elimination patterns, perilla leaf extract also has anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an excellent option for conditions like IBS.
Because of the potent effects and possible dependence that can occur with stimulant laxatives like senna, cascara, and many over-the-counter products, using products that support normal motility can be much gentler on the body and won’t leave one racing for the toilet when they kick in. An extract from the plant Perilla (Perilla fructescens) is one such option, as it gently supports normal digestive tract motility. In addition to supporting normal elimination patterns, perilla leaf extract also has anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties,, making it an excellent option for conditions like IBS.
Papaya concentrates have also been shown to be effective for similar reasons, and are safe for use in children as well. Modified citrus pectin can be included to add fiber, and as such enhances bowel movements and is useful as a binder to help capture and eliminate toxins from the gut. Combinations of products such as these, especially when enhanced with other gut anti-spasmodics like fennel and ginger, can be very useful for getting constipated bowel patterns back on track. Feeling like things are “moving again” really makes life much more pleasant!
Supporting digestion with bitter herbs in addition to the aforementioned digestive enzymes can provide a boost for digestion and supports normal motility. Bitter herbs are a gentle nudge to the digestive system, and promote digestive secretions of stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, and bile from the liver and gallbladder. Bitter herbs include gentian, dandelion, artichoke, and even chamomile. Many people dislike the taste of bitter because we have been so conditioned by our culture and available foods to seek things that are sweet, but it is the bitter foods that actually help digestion. Bitter herbs can be found in tinctures or taken as foods or teas.
Bitter herbs are a gentle nudge to the digestive system, and promote digestive secretions of stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, and bile from the liver and gallbladder.
Eating a balanced diet that includes adequate fiber, water, and nutrients supports proper digestive function. Although water is important, consuming the bulk of liquids away from meals better supports digestion, because if liquids are taken with meals, they dilute and lessen the concentration of digestive secretions. The manner in which meals are consumed also affects digestion. Eating on the run has a negative effect on the “rest-and-digest” state that the body requires for proper digestion. Many people probably can remember work lunches at the desk, or grabbing a bite between work and evening activities while driving, and the sensation of “gut rot” or abdominal pain that followed. Although the types of food one consumes can lead to this, not giving the body time for digestion also can! So, sit and take some time to eat your meals: your body will thank you.
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 Drossman DA, Thompson WG. The irritable bowel syndrome: review and a graduated multicomponent treatment approach. Ann Intern Med. 1992 Jun 15;116(12 Pt 1):1009-16.
 Salvatore S, et al. Low fecal elastase: potentially related to transient small bowel damage resulting from enteric pathogens. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2003 Mar;36(3):392-6.
 Leeds JS, et al. Is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in adult coeliac disease a cause of persisting symptoms? Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Feb 1;25(3):265-71.
 Hutson WR, Roehrkasse RL, Wald A. Influence of gender and menopause on gastric emptying and motility. Gastroenterology. 1989 Jan;96(1):11-7.
 Buchwald-Werner S, et al. Perilla extract improves gastrointestinal discomfort in a randomized placebo controlled double blind human pilot study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 May 27;14:173.
 Verspohl EJ, et al. Testing of Perilla frutescens extract and Vicenin 2 for their antispasmodic effect. Phytomedicine. 2013 Mar 15;20(5):427-31.
 Lee HA, Han JS. Anti-inflammatory Effect of Perilla frutescens (L.) Britton var. frutescens Extract in LPS-stimulated RAW 264.7 Macrophages. Prev Nutr Food Sci. 2012 Jun;17(2):109-15.
 Schütz B. Evaluation of clinical aspects of Caricol. Biovis: Institute for Naturopathic Diagnosis and Preventive Medicine, Justus-Staudt-Str. 2, 65555 Limburg. 2008. Unpublished study.
 Platel K, Srinivasan K. Digestive stimulant action of spices: a myth or reality? Indian J Med Res. 2004 May;119(5):167-79.
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Dr. Carrie Decker
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