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March 1998 Issue
Stop CAUSING Your Irritable Bowel Syndrome; Part I
by Michael Fick
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If you enjoy your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), skip this article. I say that because, for many of us, IBS is a choice. If you've chosen to accept yours, I'll bet I know where you're sitting as you read this. Would you like to remove this computer from your bathroom, permanently? You can, if you choose to stop having IBS. 

You know the IBS routine: A week or two of constipation and cramps, then days of diarrhea. Then a week or two of constipation and cramps and days of diarrhea. Then a week or two of constipation and cramps and days of diarrhea. And so it goes until you die of old age.

That's the good part -- IBS won't kill you. The bad part is ... that's the only good part.  When your IBS is acting up, you want to switch physicians -- to Dr. Kevorkian. The only thing worse than not doing Number 2 for two weeks is making up for those weeks in a couple of jet-propelled days. And again the next day. And the next. Then, finally, some relief; no more diarrhea. Then another day of relief. Then ... wait a minute ... this isn't relief -- it's constipation again. Isn't it a crock that your best bowel days are those first couple of days of constipation? Oh, well, at least you have no cramps this time. Oops ... WRONG! We'll pay no attention while you curl into a ball, roll on the floor and groan in agony ... and we'll tell the maitre d' to just walk around you.

What a way to live. Not only is IBS not directly diagnosable, but most doctors tell us it's essentially incurable: "Congratulations; it's not Crohn's disease, VD, sprue, cancer, or ulcerative colitis -- it's just IBS. Lucky you! You'll live another 50 years ... with chronic diarrhea and constipation."

The usual treatment is simple: just swallow fiber and fluids until you sprout toadstools or burst, and you may reduce your symptoms by 10%. Wow; you may spend only 45 of those 50 years in the smallest room of your home. Fortunately you'll want to start drinking an extra quart or two of water daily just to wash all that psyllium hydrophilic mucilloid down.

Pisillium hydrowhat? You know --  Metamucil. (Ah, now I see recognition -- and a little fear -- in your eyes.) Both are euphemisms for vacuum cleaner dust. Its purpose is to put back into your life -- and your gut -- the fiber man removed in the name of progress.

The stuff helps, is harmless, and forms stools rather than a habit. But it ruins a perfectly good glass of "water or other liquid" if taken as directed. There's a better way to take it, and an even better way to break the IBS cycle.

First, the better way to take your Metamucil, especially the cheap kind your HMO pays for. You know -- the brands you can buy at Home Depot, such as Stand Back, Super Pooper, The Incredible Bulk, Outtamyway, Metamucil Helper, and Sea Mint (say it out loud). These dissolve best in citrus fruit juice, but don't ruin a whole glass of OJ. Instead, pour just a few ounces of OJ into a 5-oz paper cup. Stir in your teaspoon of dust, take a deep breath, and chug it down. Then drink a nice, big, refreshing, full glass of untarnished "water or other liquid" to wash it down.

Or use the more expensive silky smooth version. Why, it's almost as good as Tang, the orange colored drink developed by NASA -- the people who brought us the Challenger disaster. Its flavor may be pure imitation synthetic artificial crayon, but at least they've screened the gravel out of it, and its color was inspired by a fruit.

But realize there's actually an IBS cure for many of us. Some physicians are convinced that we cause the vast majority of our constipation/diarrhea cycles ourselves, and can prevent them as simply as we cause them. The best-known proponent of breaking the IBS cycle is Dr. Gabe Mirkin, who claims to have almost eliminated (I guess that's the appropriate word) IBS in many of his patients. His claim to fame and credibility includes his nationally syndicated medical radio talk show and magazine column, his busy private practice, and his extensive, ongoing  research of thousands of medical journal reports for the latest research results.

Come back next month for a more detailed description (whoopie!) of the IBS cycle, its causes, and how to transform our stop and go bowel traffic to a smooth traffic pattern. You may be surprised to learn that one of the most common foods we all eat can cause our IBS.

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