Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): it can happen to the best of us. That doesn’t make it any less unpleasant, particularly when you’re experiencing cramping or bloating. IBS can cause diarrhea, sluggishness, constipation and other not-fun issues. Sadly, many people experience said issues without even knowing why because only a few IBS sufferers actually have severe signs and symptoms.
IBS is a severe gastrointestinal disorder, but it is worthy to note that it isn’t the same as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a more serious condition that causes inflammation in the gut and lead to severe complications. IBS affects the large intestine and is a chronic condition that you’ll need to manage long term.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
The symptoms of IBS differ. However, the most common include:
- Abdominal pain and bloating which is partially relieved by passing a bowel movement
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Mucus found in the stool
Most people with IBS experience periods when the symptoms are worse and periods when they improve or even go away entirely.
When to consult a doctor
It’s smart to consult a health professional if you experience frequent change in bowel habits or other symptoms of IBS. As a matter of fact, these symptoms may indicate the presence of a more serious condition like colon cancer. Serious symptoms may include:
- Weight loss
- Rectal bleeding
- Persistent vomiting
- Diarrhea at night
- Iron deficiency
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Prolonged pain that isn’t relieved by passing gas or a bowel movement
Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Unfortunately, the exact cause of IBS is not known. However, some factors appear to play a role in the occurrence of IBS. They include:
- Contraction of intestinal muscles
As food is moved through the digestive tract, the muscles that line the walls of the intestines contract. When these contractions are strong and persistent, they can lead to bloating and diarrhea. While on the other hand, weak intestinal contractions can reduce the speed of food passage and result in hard, dry stools.
- Nervous system
When the stomach stretches from gas or stool, it can be as a result of abnormalities in the nerves in the digestive system. Sometimes too, when signals between the brain and the intestines are poor, it can lead to an overreaction of the body to changes that normally should occur in the digestion, causing cramps, constipation or diarrhea.
- Inflammation in the intestines
IBS can be caused by an increased number of immune-system cells in the intestines. When this occurs, it is often associated with pain and diarrhea.
- Chronic infection
In some cases, a virus or bacteria could be responsible for the development of IBS, especially after a serious bout of diarrhea. Irritable Bowel Syndrome might also be linked to bacterial overgrowth in the intestines.
- Changes in bacteria in the gut
In fact, there is the “good” bacteria (microflora) that reside in the intestines and play a vital role in maintain good health. Interestingly, studies suggest that microflora in people experiencing IBS might differ from that in healthy people.
The symptoms of IBS can be triggered by:
- What you eat
The role of food intolerance in IBS is not really clear, particularly because real food allergies rarely result in IBS. Notwithstanding, many people experience severe IBS symptoms when they consume certain foods or beverages, especially dairy products, carbonated drinks, wheat, beans, citrus fruits, and cabbage.
Due to hormonal changes, women are twice as likely to have IBS. In fact, for many women, IBS symptoms are worse during or around their menstrual periods.
Most people IBS sufferers experience more frequent and serious symptoms when highly stressed. But although stress may aggravate IBS symptoms, it does not actually cause them.
IBS and Melatonin
Sadly, people with irritable bowel syndrome may suffer for years without finding some relieve for their symptoms. But fortunately, a new review article reveals melatonin as a promising treatment option for IBS. Melatonin is produced in the brain by the pineal gland and by cells in the mucous lining of the digestive tract. Melatonin is mostly famous for its role as a chemical signal that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. But now we know that’s not all it does.
According to a review article published by researchers at the National University of Singapore’s School of Medicine, placebo-controlled studies show that melatonin decreases abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation. In one of the studies, patients who took melatonin experienced significant improvements in not just symptoms related to gut function, but in overall quality of life.
Melatonin plays an important role in reducing inflammation, fighting free radicals, and increasing endorphins to relieve pain. For the digestive system, melatonin regulates the movement of food, inflammation, and sensation. Melatonin is safe, inexpensive, and readily available as a supplement. It helps to improve insomnia, other sleep disorders, immune disorders, cancer, and migraines.
To use melatonin in the treatment of IBS, it is advisable to start with 3 mg at bedtime. However, if you feel tired or groggy the next day, reduce the dose to 1 or 2 mg. For optimal results, it’s best to stick with the treatment for at least one or two months. Also, in tackling IBS, avoid foods to which you’re sensitive or allergic.
The Bottom Line
Several studies have found that melatonin has a therapeutic effect on IBS. It is also very effective in relieving abdominal pain and diarrhea in people experiencing IBS. Melatonin is a relatively safe drug for treating IBS. However, further studies are needed to determine the potency and long‐term safety of melatonin before it can be recommended for routine medical use.
If you decide to explore the option of melatonin in the treatment of IBS, we advice that you consult a qualified healthcare professional first. Additionally, ensure to verify all information and data before considering melatonin or any other supplement as they have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.