breech baby
making sense


Herbs to the rescue
Irritable bowel syndrome is one of those diseases you just don't want. Chronic and hard to treat, it interferes with defecation and causes abdominal pain in 10 to 20 percent of the American population.herbs

Can a collection of Chinese herbs traditionally used to strengthen the bowel help with irritable bowel syndrome?

Apparently, and quite effectively. A study of 116 patients reported in JAMA (see "Treatment of Irritable... " in the bibliography) compared groups of patients who received:

a dummy drug

a standard mixture of 20 Chinese herbs designed to restore bowel health

herbs individually prepared by a Chinese herbalist

The patients were "generally from the difficult end of the spectrum," wrote researcher Alan Bensoussan in an e-mail interview, "because their symptoms were severe enough to warrant referral to a specialist and invasive examinations. These patients were not being especially helped by anything, including dietary changes and medication." Bensoussan researches Chinese medicine at University of Western Sydney Macarthur in Australia

At the end of treatment, gastroenterologists and patients agreed that herbs worked better than placebo. On the Bowel Symptom Scale, the lower the better.
Data source: Treatment of Irritable....

BSS chart

After 16 weeks, the patients who took herbs daily improved on nearly every score of a test for bowel symptoms; the standard preparation group did slightly better than the individual prescription group. Bensoussan admits this challenges the belief that Chinese herbs should be prescribed individually, but suggests that a larger trial may have shown otherwise. If the effect was real, he suggests the traditional cure may be better because the thinking that went into it "isn't always available under the pressure of patient consultation."

Relief -- spelled H - E - R - B - S
Fourteen weeks after treatment, some of the benefits remained in the herb-takers, indicating that -- for some patients -- the treatment did more than just relieve symptoms. Writes Bensoussan, "The traditional practice of Chinese medicine is focused on the recovery of the patient, not on developing pharmacological dependence. Some patients were still improved one to two years later, some required booster treatment, and some gained nothing. It depends largely (as is the case for most chronic diseases) on how long the patient has had the condition, how severe the condition has been, and the patient's potential for recovery to general health."

Bensoussan says the herbal preparation will not be on the market in the United States for eight to ten months.

The study was good, says John Bryant Wyman, professor of medicine at the Clinical Science Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, particularly because it controlled for the placebo effect. Wyman, a specialist in irritable bowel syndrome, says the disorder is probably caused by a nerve deficiency that interferes with movement of the bowel. "I think it's a real physical problem, and we haven't been smart enough" to understand it. Wyman found the study persuasive, and has already shown it to a patient.

So I suppose all Chinese medical treatments work... Not!

back more
The Why Files
There are 1 2 3 4 5 6 pages in this feature.
Bibliography | Credits | Feedback | Search

©1998, University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents.