Irritable Bowel Syndrome is not all in the head and really does have a  physical cause.

(Up till now Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, which is thought to affect over 10% of the population,  has often been treated as a purely psychosomatic complaint as no organic or physical cause had been found for the condition.

However, a reserach team under Professor Michael Schemann's at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen Department for Human Biology has demonstrated that micro-inflammations of the gut lining cause sensitisation of the digestive nervous system, thereby causing irritable bowel syndrome.

Using ultrafast optical measuring methods, the researchers showed that triggers from mast cells and enterochromaffin cells can directly activate the nerve cells in the bowel, upsetting communication between the gut's lining and its nervous system by releasing neuroactive substances such as serotonin, histamine and protease into the gut which, in turn,cause of the unpleasant IBS symptoms. The TUM researchers are now aiming to assess to what extent nerve sensitisation correlates with the severity of symptoms.

Meanwhile, working with colleagues from Amsterdam, they have already established that irritable bowel symptoms improved after treatment with an antihistamine known for its immune-stabilising effect in the treatment of allergic reactions such as hay fever. They are now investigating whether the improved symptoms are accompanied by a normalisation of nerve activity. Successful identification of the active components could enable the development of effective drugs to treat irritable bowel syndrome.

Sabine Buhner et al  Activation of Human Enteric Neurons by Supernatants of Colonic Biopsy Specimens From Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology, 2009

T. K. Klooker, et al. The mast cell stabiliser ketotifen decreases visceral hypersensitivity and improves intestinal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Gut, 2010

Click here for more research on IBS

First Published August 2010

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