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As this section involves those things that we get from our parents, gender obviously being one of these things, it includes the hormonal problems suffered by some women and their potential solutions. It also deals with herbal remedies, an important part of your plan to overcome your irritable bowel syndrome.

Hormonal Factors

Irritable bowel syndrome may occur regularly in the last part of the menstrual cycle just before the menstrual period starts. It is probably due to the rapidly changing hormone levels that occur at that time. These hormonal changes may produce a large number of unwanted effects through their actions on each individual cell in the body. One of the features of hormones as a means of controlling the functions of the body is that the hormones affect every cell and cell type in the body because they are present in the blood that is circulating throughout the body, and in the fluid that bathes every cell. Clearly, because each cell type is so different in structure and function from each other there will be a different effect on a skin cell when compared to a brain cell and it is this relatively untargeted feature of hormonal control of any sort that can lead to such bad effects.

The main line of self-help for this problem involves taking back control of the problem. This may seem a rather bizarre and difficult thing to do but we all have more control over such things as our hormones than we may realise. There are a number of observations that will show this to be true. Firstly, there is the well-documented phantom pregnancy in which the woman can produce all the physical changes of pregnancy (except the baby), including all the hormonal alterations. This happens from time to time when the woman desperately wants to be pregnant and convinces herself that she is pregnant. It is the belief that she is pregnant that is the key to the situation. The woman has overridden the normal hormonal controls and produced hormonal changes by will in the absence of a pregnancy. These changes mimic the pregnancy hormonal changes and it is the increasing circulating hormones having their normal effects on all the cells and cell types in the body when they are present in high levels that cause the symptoms of pregnancy to appear. These symptoms reinforce the woman's belief that she is pregnant and the body continues the normal increasing hormonal pregnancy routine reassured that there is a pregnancy there and all is well. The phantom pregnancy can continue to the point when it is obvious by the lack of baby's kicking and the negative medical tests that there is no baby and the pregnancy is a phantom.

The second common observation is that if the woman is stressed or if she is coping with a major life event the menstrual period can come at an unexpected time. Marriage, exams, moving house are examples of causes of this phenomenon.

Lastly it is well observed that women such as nuns who live in closed communities tend, after a while in that community, to synchronise their hormones and to all have their menstrual periods at the same time.

These groups of women were all able to do what is usually regarded as impossible. They were all able to change the cycle of their sex hormones. The first group, the women with phantom pregnancies, achieved this by will. They altered the inbuilt instructions on their hormone balance to the pregnancy route instead of the normal route because they desperately wanted to be on the pregnancy route. The second group suffers the hormonal upset through stress. All the different hormones throughout the body can be reasonably considered as one integrated system where the balance of them all is dependent on the balance of each of the others. Hormonal disturbances are rather like knocking a moving pendulum. It will change its swing, not only forwards and backwards but also sideways as well.

For instance, when I was a GP I ran a clinic for women who needed Hormone Replacement Therapy for the menopause. I ran a series of hormonal blood tests and found that in one in six women there was disturbance of the thyroid as well as the sex hormones. This was unexpected. I checked the thyroid hormone levels every three months when I saw these women and to my surprise once the women were adequately treated with Hormone Replacement Therapy (nothing at all to do with the thyroid) I found that the thyroid hormones had settled back to normal. The pendulum had settled down to its usual swing. So alterations in the stress hormones may be expected to produce changes in the other hormonal systems and the sex hormones are no exception.

The third group that synchronises its menstrual periods produces that effect by some mysterious sort of subconscious togetherness. This is more difficult to explain but may in time be attributed to pheromones. These are a kind of hormonal odour that is subconsciously detected and may well change during the menstrual cycle. It is possible that there is some pull to synchronise the pheromones and thus the mainline hormones, including those that deal with the menstrual cycle, in a group of people who live in close intimate contact.

From the three different groups of women mentioned above it seems to be possible to change the balance of the sex hormones by enlisting the resources of your subconscious mind to change them. Therefore it should also be possible to change them when you want to and for your benefit so that the hormonal changes do not produce irritable bowel syndrome.

Some years ago I performed a very small pilot study and found that nine out of a group of ten of my women patients improved their Premenstrual Tension by using a self-empowering technique.


Herbal Remedies Research in Complementary Therapies

As the whole point of this advice is self-help the only preparations mentioned are herbal remedies that need no doctor's prescription and are widely available in herbal and health shops. The criteria for their mention will however be as rigorous as those used for the doctor's approval of a mainstream drug.

The two herbal preparations that will be mentioned have been shown to be successful in randomised double blind placebo controlled studies. That fearsome title means that any biasing effect of the doctor is removed because neither the patient nor the doctor knows whether the pill given is a dummy pill or the real herbal preparation. This means that the doctor cannot fiddle the results by being enthusiastic about the active herbal preparation and dismissive about the dummy pill. Each patient is randomly put into one of the two groups for this treatment, one taking the dummy pill and one taking the active pill. Again because neither the doctor nor the patient knows whether the pill they are taking is dummy or not, the patient cannot be influenced in favour of one pill or the other. In the ideal study they would be matched for age, sex, and severity of the irritable bowel syndrome. This is difficult especially as the researchers would need to know beforehand exactly how bad the irritable bowel syndrome of each participant was. Irritable bowel syndrome is frequently so variable in each sufferer it would be very difficult to match patients. Age and sex matching is less difficult. For instance if the dummy pill group had a forty year old woman then the active pill group should also include a forty year old woman. This kind of research is regarded as the gold standard in mainstream medicine and is appropriate when the patient has to swallow something where a sugar pill, which looks identical to the real pill, can be used to "blind" it's identity to both doctor and patient.

It is not possible to "blind" the doctor and patient when using talking or massage therapies because it is impossible to pretend to talk or massage. Any control group would have to have "ineffective" massage or talking and it would be obvious that this was not the proper therapy. Also "ineffective" massage or talking could also be considered a treatment in its own right and so it could not possibly be considered to be equivalent to a sugar pill as used in drug trials in mainstream medicine. This is one of the reasons that research in complementary therapies is not recognised by most mainstream doctors who will only accept the randomised double blind placebo controlled trial as "proper" research. However, the one method which does works for complementary therapy is the before and after model where the patient who has irritable bowel syndrome keeps a diary for a reasonable length of time (Ideally 12 weeks) then has the treatment and continues with the diary for another 12 weeks. If the treatment is effective and the measures of irritable bowel syndrome severity and frequency are plotted on a graph this would show a straight baseline for the first (untreated) period and as the irritable bowel syndrome improved in frequency and severity there would be a sloping line showing gradual improvement during the treatment period. That is indeed what my research showed and was the research model used.

Why Herbal Remedies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

That question could be put the other way round, why not modern pharmaceuticals for irritable bowel syndrome? There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, because the only effective modern mainline drugs are "prescription only" you would need to see a doctor in order to access them; and our remit is determinedly self-help.

Secondly, most of the relevant modern drugs have side effects that often make them unacceptable or even dangerous and thirdly the drugs used to attempt to prevent irritable bowel syndrome seem not to work too well. It is worth remembering that drugs started life as herbal extracts, digitalis from foxgloves and aspirin from willow are two good examples of this, and it is only in the past hundred years that they have been developed synthetically.

The main problem however is that modern medicine is a reductionist activity.

I must explain what I mean. If, for example, if I was to ask you where was the true site of Beethoven's ninth symphony, you would wonder what I was talking about, but it is a fair question. Does the true site of that work reside in Beethoven's brain, the notes on the score, the thoughts in the conductors mind, the thoughts in the performers' mind, the instruments on which it is played, the airwaves that propagate it through the air to your ear, the brainwaves in your head while you listen or the effects those waves produce in your mind. If you are listening on a radio or a recorded c d at home or to a live performance or there are a few more layers or levels to add to those choices. This may seem an unimportant and exotic set of choices but it is really quite important in many areas of human knowledge. The reductionist holds the belief that only one or perhaps two of these choices really matter and will explore only the musical notes, examining, poring over, and dissecting them until the essentials are found. The herbal reductionists, the drug companies, look for those elements that they believe to be the active parts and then proceed to manufacture an "equivalent" using only those active ingredients. At the opposite extreme we have the holist who is a person who considers all parts of the equation and will recognise that the ultimate pleasure of listening to Beethoven's score requires that all the elements be left intact. He would say that the answer to the question of the site of the music was all of those alternatives equally; that each level had its place and without each level there would be no music. He knows that he cannot take any single part away or the music will not be the same. Similarly, the holistic practitioner knows that mind, body and soul are equal and indivisible and would regard the equal treatment of each aspect to be vital in helping any health problem including irritable bowel syndrome. The holistic herbalist will accept that there may be some elements in a plant's make up which may not be necessary but he also accepts that the most important elements need the others to make it do its job properly. Modern drugs also suffer from this reductionist problem. It is well known that aspirin was isolated from the bark of willow trees but at that time there was an assumption made that the aspirin component, because it worked, was the only active ingredient. That has never been proven and is illogical. Below I mention the evidence for feverfew and it seems that the negative trials used an over purified extract from which some active substance may have been removed making the herbal remedy ineffective. When we consider what we eat we can again look at the design limitations of our bodies as we did when we looked at food intolerance. Just as eating nonhuman milk violates the body's design limitations so does the eating of a hyper pure extract in the context of herbal remedies.

Perhaps we can usefully learn from the medicine men in so-called "primitive" societies who know the value of extracts of the local trees and plants and have little care for extracting the hyper pure active substance It is clearly important to standardise the extracts used so that each pill or bottle contains the same amount of active ingredients and you can safely take today's dose in the knowledge that if you have one pill today it will be exactly as "strong" as yesterday's or tomorrow's but this is not what is meant by hyper pure extracts. Hyper pure extracts are what modern medicine did to willow bark when it analysed all the constituents and in discovering aspirin may well have thrown out other things that would have helped. Furthermore those other things may well have worked with the aspirin in a way that made the combination just as effective as pure aspirin but could have allowed much less aspirin to be used. That could have made a much safer compound aspirin product that was free of the side effects produced by that drug. It is probably true to say that because of those side effects aspirin would be unlikely to get a licence from the regulatory authorities if it was a new drug today. None of our food is purified like this and we are designed to eat a cocktail of unpurified and intact plant and animal foodstuffs.

Herbal remedies fit well with the holistic concept of this regime and that mentioned below is an important part of the process.


Mint has been shown in a number of studies to be more effective than placebo in treating irritable bowel syndrome. It is thought that it relaxes the spasm of the smooth muscle surrounding the bowel wall that is responsible for the colicky pain and bloating. It is important to take the mint in entericcoated tablets because the mint may irritate the stomach when taken in sufficient quantity to be effective. It is therefore the first choice for the holistic regime for irritable bowel syndrome.

Herbal Preparations for PMS

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that an extract of Agnus Castus fruit produced a 50% reduction in the symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (including abdominal pains) in half of the women taking part in the study. It reported only a few mild side effects. This study was performed using a double blind placebo controlled model and its publication in the British Medical Journal adds medical scientific credibility to 37 its results. The report's authors conclude, "It should be considered a therapeutic option". As it acts on the hormone system it should not be taken together with any other hormonal preparation.

In a Nutshell

  • Take Enteric coated mint tablets for six months.
  • If your symptoms are related to female hormones consider Agnus Castus
Index What is IBS? Leaky Gut Syndrome Stress and Heredity Helping Stress in IBS


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