Meditation May Help Those with IBS
May. 11, 2011 - A relaxation technique called mindful meditation may be an effective way to ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic digestive disease.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied a group of women with IBS and found that those who practiced mindful meditation reduced the severity of their symptoms by 40 percent. The women also felt less psychological stress and improved their quality of life.
As a comparison, those who participated in a support group reduced the severity of their symptoms by about 12 percent.
What's important about the results, the researchers say, is that meditation helped a disease that's difficult to treat.
"It's chronic and, over time, it's hard to treat because it is complicated," says study co-author Olafur Palsson, Psy.D.
The study involved 75 women between 19 and 71 years old who had IBS. They were divided randomly into two groups. One group were trained how to do mindful meditation - which focuses attention on breathing, the body, and thoughts as they occur - and the other group joined in a support group.
After eight weeks, the meditation group had cut the severity of symptoms by more than 26 percent, versus 6.2 percent in the support group. By the end of three months, the meditation group had reduced the severity of symptoms by 38.2 percent, and the support group by 11.8 percent.
IBS is a common digestive illness in the U.S., with symptoms that include abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, and constipation. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.
Treatments for IBS include antispasmodic medications to relax the colon, and drugs to reduce constipation and diarrhea. Those with the condition may need to avoid drinks and foods that stimulate the intestines, such as alcohol, caffeinated beverages, some grains, chocolate, and milk.
But the disease varies from one person to another, and one regimen does not help everyone, according to health officials.
"It's a small sample, but I'm impressed," says Albena Halpert, M.D., at Boston University Medical School. "There have been other studies that looked at psychological treatment options, but this is the first looking at mindfulness, and the results are robust."
To help diagnose irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), your health care provider will ask questions about your symptoms. If they have a certain pattern over time, your provider will know you have the condition. Your provider may also perform tests to make sure your symptoms aren't from another condition instead of IBS.
The best way to treat IBS is to eat a healthy, high-fiber diet; avoid food that makes you feel worse; and reduce your stress. Drinking plenty of water and eating six small meals a day instead of three big ones helps some people with IBS.
No medication cures IBS, but your health care provider can give you medications to help relieve your symptoms. These include medicines to reduce painful cramping, to relieve diarrhea, and to help with constipation. Antidepressants may also reduce some symptoms. Your health care provider can determine the most appropriate treatment.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.