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Hypnosis for IBS?

Is hypnosis a useful treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

Answer (Published 2/3/2006)

Yes. IBS affects 10 to 20 percent of adults at some point in their lives. Once called "spastic colon," it’s actually a combination of symptoms that may include constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, fatigue and headaches that can be worsened by certain foods, stress and irritants. With IBS there is no structural damage to the body. Instead, it results from nervous interference with the normal functioning of the lower digestive tract. Symptoms are variable and change over time.

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A number of studies have suggested that hypnosis can relieve IBS symptoms by helping patients gain control over their digestive systems. The latest one, at Britain’s University of Manchester, found that hypnosis helped about 70 percent of the IBS patients treated. However, the same study showed that hypnosis isn’t for everyone and that it seems to work better for women than for men.

In the British study, 250 patients, all of whom had suffered from IBS for more than two years, received 12 one-hour hypnotherapy sessions during which they also were taught how the digestive system works and what causes IBS symptoms. The researchers found that hypnotherapy helped relieve all types of IBS symptoms, a big improvement over pharmaceutical drugs, which affect only a few. They noted, however, that patients should be treated by practitioners trained in gut-directed hypnotherapy. You can get a referral via the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis at www.asch.net.

If you have IBS, you can ease your symptoms by identifying and eliminating any foods that set them off. You also should avoid caffeine (including decaffeinated beverages), tobacco and other stimulants that can irritate the bowels and worsen diarrhea. Avoiding dairy products can also help. Be sure to increase your intake of fiber – eat lots of fruits, whole grains and cooked vegetables. Sprinkle a tablespoon of freshly ground flaxseed on cereals, soups or salads, and use a psyllium-based fiber supplement if you can’t sufficiently increase your consumption of fiber-rich foods.

In addition, be sure not to overeat – small, frequent meals, when possible, are less likely to set off IBS symptoms than too much food in a single meal. Avoid the sweeteners sorbitol and xylitol, which can exacerbate diarrhea in some people with IBS. Here are some other hints that can help:


  • Eliminate all products containing carageenan (these include soy milk and ice cream).
  • Take probiotics with meals; the friendly bacteria they contain can help stabilize the digestive tract.
  • Take carob powder for diarrhea (mix a tablespoon with applesauce and honey). Used occasionally, this remedy can soothe irritated intestines
  • Take peppermint oil if you have abdominal pain or cramping. Buy enteric-coated capsules and take one or two of them three times a day 15 to 30 minutes before meals.
  • Try slippery elm powder. Prepare a soothing gruel by combining one teaspoon of the powder with a teaspoon of sugar and two cups of boiling water. Stir well, flavor with cinnamon and drink one or two cups a day.
  • Take 500-1,000 milligrams of turmeric a day. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that treats inflammation of the gut at the microscopic level, another possible contributor to IBS.

In addition to hypnosis, try my Relaxing Breath, biofeedback, yoga or meditation to help reduce stress. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also be helpful. Acupuncture seems to help relieve bloating, and exercise helps maintain bowel regularity and reduces stress.

In short, IBS is much better treated by integrative medicine than by conventional medicine.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

More information on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

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