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Meditation Helps Women with IBS

Article by Deborah Ross

Relax and let yourself focus on this for just a moment: mindful meditation might ease the pain associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

It’s no surprise that for a long time medical practitioners and others have suggested meditation for IBS — particularly because of the condition’s connection to stress — but now a study out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests that meditation indeed has some merit.

Researchers set up two scenarios for the 75 study participants: women between the ages of 19 and 71 who had varying levels of IBS symptoms. One set practiced mindful meditation, and the other set participated in a traditional support group. When researchers checked in with the women three months later, the first set reported a 38 percent reduction in symptoms while the second set reported a 12 percent reduction.

The difference is significant, said researchers, who presented their findings at a recent digestive diseases conference in Chicago.

“It’s not easy to treat IBS, even with the best standard medical approaches,” study co-author Olafur Palsson told HealthDay in a May 9, 2011, online article. Palsson is an associate professor in the gastroenterology department at the university as well as a psychologist. “It’s chronic and, over time, it’s hard to treat because it is complicated.”

Abdominal pain is a common symptom of IBS, along with cramps, diarrhea and constipation. It’s more common in women, and can begin as early as adolescence. Some patients have a family history of IBS and find that it worsens with stress.

Yet if IBS patients learned the art of mindful meditation, based on ancient Buddhist practices, they might find a new approach that could “empower” them to get a handle on their illness, Palsson told HealthDay. He added that mindful meditation takes discipline and is not so much a clinical treatment as an educational approach. The technique is described as the ability to quietly focus on the moment — whether it’s a thought you’re having, the way you’re breathing or another body signal — without judgment.

The website contended that meditation can help patients cope with or even eliminate IBS attacks. As a relaxation technique it can make the muscle spasms IBS patients endure more tolerable; it can even ease the tension patients feel in anticipation of an attack, the site said.

The link between meditation and pain relief for IBS is expected to undergo further study with a larger sample of patients. Meanwhile, patients interested in giving it a try can check for mindful meditation classes in their area.


Deborah Ross writes about health, education, the arts and Arizona travel from her home in Phoenix.

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