I was first diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) during a study abroad in Costa Rica in 2011. After a few days there – eating simple foods like chicken, rice, beans, fruits and vegetables – I became super sick and got diarrhea after every meal along with terrible gas and bloating. It wasn’t exactly fun to deal with between wandering rainforests and zipping through the mountains. So I went to a local doctor and he told me 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.
Since then, I have learned a lot more about my condition. IBS is actually quite common and affects an estimated 10 to 15 percent of adults in the United States – and although it is not caused by anxiety, stress and anxiety can aggravate the symptoms. I have been working for 10 years now 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 my bloating and stomach pain.
The supplement I bought, the OLLY Beat the Bloat capsules ($ 18), contains a blend of digestive enzymes along with dandelion extract, fennel extract and ginger extract. The benefits spied on the bottle drew me in. The company claimed that the supplement could help relieve gas and stomach upset, and because dandelion is traditionally used to ease fluid retention, it would also help my stomach feel less bloated. I figured it could not hurt – I was already experiencing unpleasant bloating, gas pains and digestive problems almost every day, depending on what I ate. Everything from too much fiber to dairy products, fast food and certain spices sent my stomach in tailspin despite my daily regimen of probiotics, multivitamins and occasional antacids.
I did not notice any immediate changes with the supplement – but eventually the lack of symptoms became apparent. I was able to eat without the revealing tying of my stomach that usually makes me run to the toilet. I ate fast food at a Mexican restaurant which would normally make me feel super bloated and uncomfortable the rest of the night and I felt. . . lived. It’s hard to explain if you’ve never had a stomach problem, but to have my stomach feel calm, relaxed and happy is so rare for me that my mood also drastically improved. It wasn’t just about my jeans feeling looser; it was about not being nauseous and sick and being able to enjoy my day a lot more.
I was curious to know if the benefits were legitimate or just a placebo effect, and I reached out to a gastroenterologist to learn more about the science behind this seemingly magical pill.
Can Digestive Enzymes Really Relieve Symptoms of IBS?
“Digestive enzymes are proteins that are naturally produced by your body that help break down foods such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates into useful nutrients so that they can be absorbed into the bloodstream and throughout the day,” Niket Sonpal, MD, a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist in New York City and faculty member at the Touro College of Medicine, POPSUGAR said. Asked about the sudden changes in my symptoms, Dr. Sonpal: “Your body probably lacks the necessary digestive enzymes to break down food. Therefore, the supplement helps with the breakdown of food, which relieves symptoms of IBS and promotes healthy digestion.”
Of course, digestive enzymes are not the only solution for IBS sufferers – and many people, including myself, will have to try a few different remedies to find relief. These can include eliminating trigger foods, managing stress, exercising regularly and more. Your doctor can help determine a treatment plan based on your specific symptoms. In extreme cases, “your doctor may prescribe antispasmodics, such as Levsin and Bentyl, that 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 high-fiber foods or taking over-the-counter fiber supplements can help relieve diarrhea or constipation. IBS is different for everyone and you need to find out what works for you. “
For me, reducing my intake of trigger foods, limiting fast food and consuming probiotics and digestive enzymes has helped effectively control my IBS – and not having as many stomach problems has also helped alleviate my anxiety and again reduce the chances of an IBS. flare up. Science is pretty cool, right?
If you have IBS, you may need to experiment with different foods and talk to your doctor about recommended supplements or medications to help manage your symptoms. As for me, I must continue to do what I have done – and maybe book a 10-year anniversary trip to Costa Rica to really put this supplement to the test. (In the name of research of course!)