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Ancient Egyptian Therapy May Provide Relief from IBS

A new report published online November 14, 2008 on the British Medical Journal website found that older treatments for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) like fiber, antispasmodics (which prevent bowel spasms) and peppermint oil may be most effective for some patients.

The researchers analyzed results from a number of studies that explored the effectiveness of these traditional therapies for IBS. The analysis included 12 fiber studies (591 participant's total), 22 antispasmodics studies (1,778 patients total) and four peppermint oil studies (392 patients total).

After analyzing the data, researchers identified that peppermint oil was the most effective treatment, although all three were found to be effective in combating symptoms of IBS. The researchers note that peppermint oil may be most effective because it has antispasmodic properties and contains menthol, which reduces colon contractions.

The use of peppermint and peppermint oil dates back to almost 1500 BC. It is said that ancient Egyptians and Babylonians added peppermint leaves to their baths to prevent disease and fatigue. Science has now shown that peppermint has digestive, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.

Another benefit of the traditional therapies used in the study was that none were associated with serious side effects. This observation is important as several newer treatments, including prescription drugs, have a long list of potential side effects.

The researchers also noted that only soluble fiber was associated with a reduction in IBS symptoms. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber is what we call roughage and comes from green leafy vegetables. Soluble fiber is more difficult to get and comes from sources like beans and lentils.

Based on these results, researchers note that physicians may want to look towards these treatments as a first line of defense against IBS. They appear to be effective in treating symptoms of the disease, have fewer side effects than some newer treatments and are relatively inexpensive.
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