New Old Remedy Performs Well in Contemporary Research

Sometimes old-fashioned remedies work best, and for the millions of people with one very hard-to-treat condition — irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) — an old remedy beats everything modern science has dreamed up. If you or someone you know has IBS, please read on.

As many as one in five Americans suffer from IBS, a miserable disorder that can bring an endless progression of constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating and stomach cramps. Where expensive new IBS drugs have been disappointing, it turns out that a classic stomachache remedy, peppermint oil, can often get the job done more effectively.

In with the Old, Out with the New

At McMaster University in Ontario, Alexander C. Ford, MD, and his colleagues analyzed the results of many previously published studies on adults with IBS, including 12 comparing fiber with placebo, 22 comparing antispasmodics with placebo, and four comparing peppermint oil with placebo. Peppermint oil was surprisingly effective, bringing relief to 74% of patients. This compares very favorably with antispasmodics, which helped only 61%, and fiber, which was beneficial to just 48%.

Peppermint oil may be most helpful in soothing the abdominal pain and cramping that are common IBS symptoms and, over time, it may also help ease diarrhea or constipation. Scientists believe it works by blocking the movement of calcium into muscle cells in the gastrointestinal tract, thereby reducing muscle contractions, discomfort and bloating.

How to Make Your IBS Better

Look for “enteric coated” peppermint oil capsules at your health food store, since taking peppermint oil straight can produce reflux symptoms, suggests Daily Health News contributing medical editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND. Dr. Rubman often prescribes doses of 200 mg to 300 mg to be taken once, twice or three times daily — but not more often, as larger doses can be toxic. He says most patients find it helpful to take a dose just before eating a meal.

Several factors should be weighed in identifying the right treatment for an IBS patient, including whether symptoms are dominated by diarrhea or constipation or whether both occur about equally. If your doctor seems quick to recommend newer pharmaceuticals, consider seeing a specialist in natural medicine to discuss the older remedies and over-the-counter medicines. As Dr. Ford pointed out to me, even though peppermint oil helped the most people in his analysis, the other two treatments — fiber and antispasmodics (which lessen spasms in the GI tract) — were effective for many, and they are safe, inexpensive and readily available over the counter at most pharmacies. Also, Dr. Rubman pointed out that there are many other useful botanical extracts that are antispasmodic as well, including valerian, skullcap, viburnum, juniper berry, hyoscamus niger, gentian and gelsemium. “Their effects may vary from minor to profound, so it’s best to use these only under physician care,” he added.

Dr. Ford has also been exploring another “new old” remedy for IBS — probiotics — and results are promising. Bottom Line’s Daily Health News will keep you up to date.