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Treating IBS-D Without Prescription Drugs

Updated on June 19, 2017

Prevalence and Impact

According to a 2005 study published in the journal, Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, approximately 10 to 15 percent of the US population suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, a condition affecting the digestive tract. The symptoms - gas, bloating, cramping, pain and either diarrhea or constipation - have a large impact on quality of life for sufferers. A survey released by the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) showed a dramatic increase in work or school days missed by patients with IBS and more than half of sufferers reported having symptoms every day. The survey also reported that patients tried 281 different treatments to try to control their symptoms, including prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and herbal remedies. Of those taking prescribed medications, 62% reported adverse side effects and 7% required hospitalization.

What is IBS-D

IBS-D is a condition affecting the function of the colon - the long, hollow tube that transports food through the digestive tract. Symptoms include abdominal pain, gas, flatulence, bloating and diarrhea.

Normally, the colon contracts rhythmically to propel contents on its digestive journey. In IBS, the colon is unusually sensitive and normal spasms cause the patient to experience pain. The nerve endings send signals to either speed up or slow down the movement. Because water is absorbed through the intestinal wall, faster spasms cause diarrhea while slower contractions cause constipation.

In IBS-D, the sufferer experiences bouts of diarrhea when food moves too quickly through the digestive tract. The rapid movement inhibits the absorption of water and digestive juices so stools are loose and poorly formed.

Additionally, because food moves so quickly, it doesn't undergo the usual process of digestion in the stomach and small intestine. Undigested food enters the large intestine where normal intestinal bacteria take over the work usually performed by digestive enzymes in the stomach and small intestine. Bacteria emit gases as a normal part of their digestive process. This gas builds up and can cause bloating, flatulence and pain.

Better Digestion Can Ease Symptoms

When food is digested properly in the stomach and small intestine, only nondigestible particles make their way into the large intestine where the remaining water is absorbed. The result is a well-formed stool, with enough moisture to pass easily.

In order to undergo thorough digestion, enzymes secreted by the liver, pancreas and other digestive organs create chemical reactions that convert proteins, fats, and carbohydrates into smaller particles. These particles are then able to be absorbed into the body. When food moves too quickly through the stomach and small intestine, enzymes don't have enough time to complete this process.

Supplementing with digestive enzymes can help ensure that food gets broken down and absorbed properly. Different enzymes break down specific nutrients. Supplementing with the correct enzyme can prevent undigested food from reaching the large intestine and may help prevent gas, bloating and pain.

Enzymes and Digestion

Enzymes speed up the breakdown of food during digestion. Specific enzymes work on specific types of food. The following shows which enzymes break down each food type:

  • Amylase - Starches
  • Protease - Proteins
  • Lipase - Fats
  • Sucrase - Sucrose (Sugar)
  • Lactase - Lactose (Milk Sugar)

Dozens more enzymes work to break down specific particles within each category. For instance, the enzyme alpha-galactosidase helps break down complex sugars found in some starches such as legumes while maltase aids in the digestion of maltose, a sugar particle that results when sucrose is broken down.

Enzymes help break food down into digestible particles

Digestive Enzymes for Gas and Bloating

In Conclusion

  • IBS-D is a dysfunction of the digestive tract that faster-than-normal colonic spasm.
  • The rapid transit of food leaves less time for digestion and absorption.
  • Digestive enzymes can aid in breaking down food before it reaches the large intestine.
  • Better digestion can relieve some of the symptoms of IBS-D.

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