Is homeopathy effective in dealing with digestive disorder? -The Asian Age

Digestive disorder, the disorder of the digestive tract, is sometimes called the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). Some digestive diseases and conditions are acute, lasting only a short time, while others are chronic or long lasting.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the common digestive disorders. IBS is best known as a group of symptoms-based functional disorder of gastrointestinal (GI) tract, characterized by repeated abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, discomfort, flatulence and a change in the bowel habits with frequent diarrhea or constipation or both.

With IBS, one may experience these symptoms without any visible signs of damage or disease in the digestive tract.
It usually involves large intestine (colon) and small intestine with disturbances of intestinal/bowel (gut) motor function (motility) and sensation. These gut related activities are regulated by the brain and as such IBS is often called a brain-gut disorder. IBS affects the digestive system of the body where the colon muscle contracts more often than in people without IBS.

People with IBS may miss work or school often and may feel less capable to take part in daily activities. Thus, IBS is a chronic disorder that degrades the quality of life mentally, physically, professionally and socially. IBS causes great discomfort, but it does not harm the intestine.

The signs and symptoms of IBS vary from person to person. The most common symptoms include:

Abdominal pain and cramping usually in the lower half of the belly that worse after meals and feel better after a bowel movement; diarrhea or constipation or sometimes constipation alternating with diarrhea; changes in bowel movements; harder or looser stools than normal; feeling of being unable to empty the bowel completely; excess gas and bloating; mucus in stool; intolerance to certain foods;    backache or headache or both; fatigue and difficulty sleeping/insomnia;    anxiety and depression.

While the cause of IBS is unknown, a disruption of the brain-gut axis and small intestine bacterial overgrowth are thought to be important factors. Different factors may cause IBS in different people.

Some factors that appear to play a role to develop IBS are as follows:

GI motility problems; nervous system; genetics; hormones; stress; certain foods; inflammation in the intestine; severe infection; changes in bacteria in the gut (microflora).

GI Motility Problems: The muscles in the intestines move the food we ingest from the stomach to the rectum by contracting and relaxing in a gentle rhythm through the intestines in a predictable pattern. Motility is the movement of the food through the gastrointestinal tract. IBS occurs when motility of the colon gets affected. If the motility is slow one may experience constipation and when it is fast with longer period of time one may experience diarrhea with pain in the abdomen.

In other words, weak intestinal contractions can slow food passage and lead to hard, dry stools whereas if the contractions are stronger and last longer than normal can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea.

Nervous System: Abnormalities in the nerves in the digestive system may cause discomfort when abdomen stretches from gas and stool. Nerve endings in the digestive tract of people with IBS are more sensitive than normal as little bubbles of gas can be quite painful for IBS patients.

Poorly coordinated signals between the brain and intestines can cause the body to overreact the changes that normally occur in the digestive process, resulting with pain and diarrhoea.

Genetics: Genes may be responsible for IBS which is often seen to run in families, especially among immediate relatives.

Hormones: Women are seen to suffer from IBS during their menstrual cycles. Hormones like endrogen and progesterone may be the reason behind the flare up of IBS symptoms.

Stress: Stress occurs when there is a disturbance in the balance of mind, body and brain. In IBS there is an increased gastrointestinal response to stress which arises from the complex biological interaction between brain and gut. Excessive anxiety, fear, anger or depression does not cause IBS, but they can trigger changes in the brain and stimulate exaggerated gut responses. So, it is important to address these mental-health problems.

Certain foods: After consumption of certain foods, such as fatty foods, spicy foods, beans, cauliflower, cabbage, milk and dairy products, chocolate and alcohol can cause IBS symptoms.

Complications: The complications of IBS can affect the patient not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. The complications include:

Physical Complications: intolerance to certain foods; malnutrition caused due to Vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to intolerance of certain foods; diarrhea; constipation; fecal impaction; hemorrhoids/complications anal fissure/rctal prolapsed; abdominal bloating; increased flatulence; weight loss.Precautionary Measures: Usually with a few basic changes in diet and daily activities, IBS will improve overtime. Here are some tips to help reduce symptoms:

Avoid caffeine (in coffee, tea and sodas), avoid smoking, drink at least 3-4 glasses of water daily, limit milk and milk product including cheese, eat smaller meals more often than big meals, add more fiber to the diet with foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, keep a record of the eating foods for finding out which foods bring bouts of IBS, learn to relax either by getting more exercise or reducing stress in life.

Homeopathic approach is to treat the patients as a whole and does not focus simply on disease. All the symptoms of the disease as well as that of the patients which may seem to be irrelevant to the disease, are taken into consideration before prescribing the right remedy for the patients.

Careful attention is to be given to the minute details about the presenting complaints including severity of diarrhea, constipation, pain, cramps, mucus in stools, nausea, heartburn, mental and emotional conditions, eating habits, food preference, thermal attributes, sleep patterns, family history of the patient and conventional findings are taken into consideration in order to select a curable remedy that most closely matches the symptoms.

IBS is classified as a functional disorder with no pathology only alteration in the function of gut, which means that the intestine appears normal, but does not function properly. There is no real effective medication for IBS in conventional treatment and as such, this is a key therapeutic area where homeopathy works the best.

Stress, anxiety and depression do not cause IBS, but can increase the frequency and severity of the symptoms. Homeopathy treatment for IBS is very effective in getting relief from the symptoms and cures it from roots. Homeopathy remedy works at the deeper level and helps to restore the altered function of intestines and thus the motility and functionality of the intestines are restored by establishing a good communication between the brain and the gut.

This communication ensures proper relay of signals and as a result, the motility of intestines become regular and rhythmic. Thus the complaints of either diarrhea or constipation or both related to IBS can be cured.

Prescribed remedies help in controlling the symptoms effectively, such as irregular bowel movements, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal discomfort, pain and cramps associated with IBS and at the same time help to boost the immune system of the body in such a manner as to improve the overall constitution and physical health along with psychological conditions like anxiety, depression and stress of the individual.

The author is a researcher of Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies in Homeopathy