I was first diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) during a trip abroad to Costa Rica in 2011. After a few days there – eating simple foods like chicken, rice, beans, fruits and vegetables – I got super sick. I have diarrhea after every meal, along with terrible gas and bloating. It wasn’t exactly fun to deal between tropical trekking and zippered lining through the mountains. So I went to a local doctor and he told me that I had IBS, a disorder that affects the colon and can lead to frequent cramps, abdominal pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea or constipation. He gave me probiotics and Alka-Seltzer tablets, which made the rest of the trip much more manageable.
I have learned a lot more about my condition since then. IBS is actually quite common, affecting approximately 10 to 15 percent of adults in the United States – and although it is not caused by anxiety, stress and anxiety can exacerbate symptoms. I have been working for 10 years to find ways to better manage my symptoms. My latest find: digestive enzymes. After only two weeks of taking a digestive enzyme supplement, I noticed a drastic improvement in bloating and stomach pain.
The supplement I bought, OLLY Beat the Bloat capsules ($ 18), contains a blend of digestive enzymes, along with dandelion extract, fennel extract and ginger. The benefits of the bottle appealed to me. The company claims that the supplement can help relieve flatulence and upset stomach, and since dandelion is traditionally used to help with fluid retention, it would also help my stomach feel less bloated. I thought it couldn’t hurt – I was already experiencing uncomfortable bloating, gas pains and digestive problems almost every day, depending on what I ate. Everything from too much fiber to dairy, fast food and some spices sent my stomach into a queue, despite my daily regimen of probiotics, multivitamins and occasional antacids.
I didn’t notice any immediate changes with the supplement – but eventually the lack of symptoms became apparent. I was able to eat without the telltale contraction of my stomach that usually makes me run to the bathroom. I ate fast food at a Mexican restaurant, which usually made me feel super bloated and uncomfortable for the rest of the night and I felt. . . fine. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never had a stomach problem, but if my stomach feels calm, relaxed and happy is so rare for me that my mood has drastically improved. It wasn’t just that my jeans felt looser; it was about not feeling nasty and sick and being able to enjoy my day much more.
Curious to find out if the benefits were legal or just a placebo effect, I turned to a gastroenterologist to learn more about the science behind this seemingly magical pill.
Can digestive enzymes really relieve the symptoms of IBS?
“Digestive enzymes are proteins that are naturally produced by your body and help break down foods such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates into beneficial nutrients so that they can be absorbed into the bloodstream throughout the day,” Niket Sonpal, MD. a certified internist and gastroenterologist in New York and a professor at Turo Medical College, told POPSUGAR. Asked about the sudden changes in my symptoms, Dr. Sonpal explained, “Your body probably lacks the necessary digestive enzymes to break down food. Therefore, the supplement helps break down food, which relieves the symptoms of IBS and promotes healthy digestion.”
Of course, digestive enzymes are not the only solution for IBS sufferers – and many people, myself included, will have to try several different medications to find relief. These may include eliminating trigger foods, stress management, regular exercise, and more. Your doctor can help you determine a treatment plan based on your specific symptoms. In extreme cases, “your doctor may prescribe antispasmodics, such as Levsin and Bentyl, which can stop muscle spasms by relaxing the smooth muscles of the gut,” said Dr. Sonpal. “If you experience constipation, your doctor may recommend laxatives such as polyethylene. Eating foods rich in fiber, or taking over-the-counter supplements can help relieve diarrhea or constipation. IBS is different for everyone and you need to find what works. for you.”
For me, reducing the intake of trigger foods, limiting fast food, and taking probiotics and digestive enzymes helped me manage IBS effectively – and the lack of so many stomach problems also helped alleviate my anxiety, again reducing my chances of having an IBS attack. Science is pretty cool, isn’t it?
If you have IBS, you may need to experiment with different foods and talk to your doctor about recommended supplements or medications to help you manage your symptoms. As for me, I will continue to do what I did – and maybe book a 10-year anniversary trip to Costa Rica to really put this supplement to the test. (In the name of research, obviously!)