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Ways to raise intestinal fortitude

Wednesday, June 19, 1996

SOMEWHAT to our surprise, the response to What To Do When Your Bowel Gets Irritable (June 5) was great and gratifying. So much so, in fact, that Body Works Interactive feels obliged to share some of it with you.

But first a mea culpa. Internet addresses can be a typographer's nightmare and, alas, the gremlins got into some of the ones we recommended to all those seeking further information on Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. So, here they are in proper form:

  • The Toronto-based IBS Self Help Group can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.ibsgroup.org

  • A U.S. site devoted to afflictions of the bowel is at http://qurlyjoe.bu.edu/cduchome.html

  • To read its lengthy list of Frequently Asked Questions, go to http://qurlyjoe.bu.edu/cducibs/ibsfaq.html

    Gut reactions

    "Readers might also be interested to know," writes Jeffrey Roberts, co-ordinator of the self-help group, "that in addition to Colpermin (a good non-prescription drug for mild to moderate IBS), Dicetel, a prescription drug distributed by Solvay Kingswood, is also targeted for IBS sufferers."

    The group itself, he adds, "endeavours to be informed of new research in support of making life easier for IBS sufferers, their family and friends.

    Current research surrounds a "brain-gut axis" concept, that is the interrelationship between the central nervous system and brain function and the function of the intestines or gut.

    "Long-standing observations that some IBS patients are 'depressed' and that 'anxieties' can promote IBS symptoms can no longer either be ignored or considered in isolation. Both, in certain instances, could not only be 'effects' of severe longstanding IBS symptoms but actually be involved in the cause of them."

    Again, people may join Mr. Roberts' group by visiting the Web site or by writing to 3324 Yonge St., P.O. Box 94074, Toronto, M4N 3R1.

    After reading the article, Thomas Hunse of St. Catharines, Ont., found himself in the library where he "came across a 1988 book called Relief from IBS by Elaine Fantle Shimber (M. Evans and Co. Inc., New York).

    It does, he writes, "an excellent job" of describing something that Barbara Perroni of Parksville, B.C., says the doctor calls an autoimmune disease -- "your body starts fighting something and doesn't know enough to stop.

    "He told me not to worry about food because if you eliminated everything that could cause it, there would be nothing left -- although stay clear of beans. But then everyone has a problem with beans."

    Meanwhile, the search goes on for the cause of IBS. The media recently raised hopes in many quarters by reporting that researchers at the University of North Carolina may have discovered a link between IBS and a gut hormone called vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP). However, the study was based on a mere 33 patients monitored over six months, so much more work needs to be done before anything conclusive comes of it.

    Mr. Roberts is keeping an eye on the research effort for BWI, so watch this space for updates as the fight goes on.

    A need to know

    As promised last time out, we will devote a goodly bit of today's space to fresh queries from readers.

    But first, a quick reminder that BWI is the Middle Kingdom's way of linking readers in need of health and fitness information with those of you who may possess that information.

    See the bottom of the page for instructions on how to ask a question or submit an answer (when doing the latter, please list any credentials you may have or sources you have tapped). And remember: before taking any action on what you read here, consult a professional.

    All that said, let's start with a few small matters of the heart.

    "I had open heart surgery a couple of years ago, and have been interested in the subject ever since," writes Douglas Mah of Edmonton.

    "The surgeon who repaired my heart, from time to time, does heart transplants in babies. As the baby grows, I assume the heart grows as well. How exactly does that work, given that the heart came from another person?

    "Also, why can't I feel the artificial ascending aorta (made of Dacron) or the prosthetic aortic valve (graphite) that were implanted in me?"

    Thinking along similar lines, Cal Berklin of Weston, Ont., notes that "in the past year there have been a number of media reports about in utero operations being conducted to correct heart problems in babies. Watching the heart surgery on the 'operation channel' on television [also known as The Learning Channel], I cringe at the major assault this type of surgery makes on the human body.

    "If minimally intrusive operations can be performed on fragile infants before they've been born, why can't similar procedures be used on relatively sturdy adults to correct heart and other types of problems?"

    "Why," asks Anita Greenstein of Toronto, "is the pain of post-herpetic neuralgia after the onset of shingles so impossible to alleviate? Are there any support groups on-line for the exchange of information?"

    Bruce Friedman of Toronto read last week's Body Works column on the sense of scent and now wonders what it is that makes some people so sensitive to perfume. Also, why do some subtle scents cause real problems for a person who isn't bothered in the least by much more potent concoctions?

    How, asks John Borden of Toronto, does a person contract polycythemia vera; why does it leave the body with an excess of red blood cells and what's the treatment and the long-term outlook for a cure?

    Body Works Interactive appears on alternate Wednesdays. You may place a question by telephone (1-800-461-3298 or 416-585-5168) but when submitting an answer, please send a fax to 1-416-585-5085, or E-mail to [email protected] or write to us c/o The Globe and Mail, 444 Front St. W., Toronto, Ont., M5V 2S9.

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