Wednesday 4 January 2023

IBS affects more than 10% of Americans. Could it be caused by gravity?

 Could gravity be the root cause behind a common gastrointestinal disorder? That’s what a new hypothesis from Dr. Brennan Spiegel, published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology, suggests could be the unifying factor behind cases of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

First, what is IBS? According to Dr. Subhankar Chakraborty, an assistant professor in the division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, IBS is a disorder of brain-gut interaction.

“IBS is characterized by a combination of persistent and repeated episodes of abdominal pain associated with a change in stool consistency,” he notes. “So patients with IBS either experience difficulty with constipation or diarrhea, or have abdominal pain that is typically brought on by eating and is relieved after a bowel movement.”

While IBS in itself is not life-threatening, it can “significantly impair the quality of life of those who suffer from it,” Chakraborty says, noting that the “prevalence of IBS appears to be increasing.” According to the American College of Gastroenterology, 10% to 15% of adults in the United States suffer from IBS — yet thus far, there’s no definitive singular cause behind the condition. Theories include increased sensitivity in the nerve endings of the gut, abnormal digestion of sugars, psychological co-morbidities and altered gut microbiomes — yet, according to Spiegel, while all these theories have “evidence to support them,” they are also all “really different” from one another.

Spiegel, director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai, tells Yahoo Life that it was the multiple theories behind what causes IBS that made him consider looking into a more generalized hypothesis.

“I've always struggled with this, and so has our whole field,” Spiegel says. “That’s frustrating for patients, because different doctors have different views about what is causing this condition. In fact, there have been big arguments in our fields.”

It was a personal experience with a family member that made Spiegel look at the bigger picture with IBS. After experiencing cognitive decline, Spiegel’s family member was transferred to a nursing home, where she was put on her back for much of the day — a shift from her typically active lifestyle.

“Almost at the exact same time she started lying down for hours and hours of time, she started developing [gastrointestinal] problems out of the blue — stomach aches, gassiness, constipation, bloating, a lot of the symptoms of IBS,” he says. “I started thinking about what's going on,” including how human beings evolved to stand upright, fighting gravity at every turn.

“When we stand up all of our body systems, not just the gut, but the brain, the lungs, everything in the cardiovascular system — every fiber in our body — is straining to manage this force of gravity that was around long before the first unicellular organism and will be here long after we're gone,” he explains. “We succumb to gravity slowly over time. And so that's what led me to think about gravity and the gut. As I got deeper into it, I started to realize every one of those theories of IBS fits into a sort of singular hypothesis, that those are all ways of the body breaking down when it becomes intolerant of this force of nature that we all experience every moment of our lives.”

Spiegel’s hypothesis may help explain why different theories about the origins of IBS could simultaneously be correct, as all of them involve how the body is fighting gravity — or failing to do so.

He likens the idea to everyone having to carry around a “sack of potatoes” for life — with some bodies being better equipped to carry the weight than others. He also suggests that the heart-dropping-to-your-stomach feeling one gets on a roller coaster — which can be significantly worse for certain people — may have to do with how some bodies can better manage gravity than others.

While Spiegel’s gravity hypothesis about IBS needs to be tested, he points out that there are many ways to study the potential effects of gravity on the gut, thanks to anecdotes from patients on what they claim improves their symptoms. For example, patients have suggested to him that their IBS improves while doing certain activities, such as regularly doing yoga moves standing on their head or even scuba diving.

Of course, gravity isn’t going away any time soon — but Spiegel says that there are ways to manage this potential problem without going as far as finding “another planet.” That can include losing visceral fat, which can affect the way the gut hangs. For those who are able to move on a regular basis, maintaining an active, upright lifestyle is also important.

“The reason why physical activity is so effective for so many diseases is because it’s allowing us to stand up longer. Gravity and time rob our tissues of strength, and we need to fight back,” he notes.

No comments:

Post a Comment