Constipation is often the butt (sorry!) of crude humor, but for sufferers it’s no joking matter. And when the condition is chronic, the desire for relief is chronic, too. Now, a new high-tech cure may change that. It doesn’t use drugs, has virtually no side effects, is amazingly effective—and works by literally shaking the you-know-what out of you. Here are the details.
About 16% of Americans, including one-third of adults older than age 60, suffer chronic constipation. Eating more fiber, drinking more water and exercising are all well and good. But that’s often not enough for people with chronic constipation—their constipation can be caused by problems with peristalsis, the natural contractions of the bowel that help move things through.
Laxative drugs are the common go-to solution for chronic constipation. These laxatives work chemically by stimulating or irritating the colon, or by attracting fluid to flush out stool. But they may become less effective if used regularly and may lead to dependency.
An Israeli company called Vibrant came up with a remedy that works mechanically. The remedy is a small capsule that is swallowed and programed to vibrate when it reaches the large intestine. The vibrations both relieve the constipation practically immediately…and also induce natural peristaltic activity, stimulating additional spontaneous bowel movements. The capsule is then excreted with bowel movements.
In early clinical trials, the Vibrant capsule almost doubled the number of bowel movements and achieved effective relief of constipation in close to 90% of patients with chronic constipation within eight weeks.
Researchers at Augusta University in Georgia and other institutions also recently tested the new device. They conducted two studies with a total of 245 patients with chronic constipation. For eight weeks, some of the patients took five Vibrant capsules (programmed to vibrate either one or two times a day) for five days per week…while others (the control group) took the same number of sham capsules.
Results: Compared to the control group, the patients who took vibrating capsules had twice as many spontaneous complete bowel movements. (The study did not track what happened to the patients after they stopped taking the vibrating capsule, so they don’t know if the beneficial effect persisted.)
The capsule is about the size of a fish oil pill, and the mechanism inside the pill that vibrates uses novel technology similar to the vibrating device you get at a restaurant when you wait for a table. The device is activated (the pill starts flashing) using a small magnet just before swallowing and is preprogrammed to start vibrating in eight to 12 hours.
The vibrations are not felt by most people. (One out of 10 patients did sense some vibration but did not find the sensation unpleasant—and none dropped out of the study.) There were no other side effects—including no diarrhea or stool leakage, as can be the case with drug laxatives—and the device was found to be safe, according to the researchers. Note: The researchers don’t know whether the magnetic component within the pill will cause problems for people with implantable electronic medical devices, such as pacemakers. Safety studies are currently ongoing. In the meantime, it is not recommended that people with such devices use the vibrating pill.
The Vibrant company plans to test their vibrating pill in 10 to 12 research centers using larger numbers of patients, starting in early 2019. If the pill continues to perform well and gets FDA approval, they hope to have it available in about three years. While cost has not yet been determined, most likely it will be competitive with other prescription medications for chronic constipation. The researchers also are planning long-term studies to determine whether constipation relief persists without continuing to take the pill…and if so, for how long. If you are interested in getting onto a clinical trial, check Vibrant’s website and/or ClinicalTrials.gov for upcoming trials and when they start recruiting.