Those happy couples in the matching bathtubs aren’t pitching to your twenty-something kids. They’re looking at you. The perky woman running up the hill with her grandkids is talking to you and your creaky joints. Sally Field wants you to know you can reverse bone loss. Brooke Shields confides that there’s a medication she uses to make her eyelashes thicker. Jamie Lee Curtis and her healthy digestive tract are convinced that a happy colon equals a happy life.
A happy colon, in fact, seems to be elusive for many boomers, particularly women. There are yogurts, supplements and various concoctions to be added to water that all claim to put the inner plumbing back in good working order.
I didn’t get it. What’s the big deal?
I get it now.
I have no idea what happened, but one day everything was fine. The next day it most definitely wasn’t. And it wasn’t fine for months. You don’t need the details — if you’ve ever had any intestinal problems, you can guess. When it goes on day after day, it’s scary.
I got me hither to the friendly neighborhood gastroenterologist, who then did every-oscopy you can name. Nothing serious. That’s a relief. But then what is going on?
“Irritable bowel syndrome,” I was told. “That’s our best guess.”
Don’t look IBS up on the Internet. You’re wasting your time. There’s tons of material, but it’s about as conclusive as a diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Lots of symptoms, lots of guesses about the cause, suggestions that might help, and no single, definitive answer.
On second thought, go ahead and look for yourself. Information is power.
The National Institute of Health has information here: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001292. There’s a support/self-help group here: www.ibsgroup.org/ (sponsored, in a genius marketing move, by a bathroom tissue company). There’s a site for information as well as various legislative initiatives — www.aboutibs.org/.
But still, even when feeling like death would be welcome, it’s hard to force yourself to read a site that includes a link to “Constipation and Courageous Stories.”
And therein, I believe, lies the problem. Nobody wants to talk about this, least of all the people who are most affected by it. And judging by all the products out there to help folks with those kinds of problems, it’s an issue for a lot of people.
Let me tell you what helped me. I went to my Woodstock pharmacy twice — first at the suggestion of the GI doctor after my final test came back negative for cancer or other scary things. The second time was about three months later when I was completely desperate — the symptoms were taking over my life.
On the first visit, fiber was the first order of business. “Psyllium,” I was told. “That’s key.” I was also given whole food supplements, massive doses of vitamin B, digestive enzymes and enough psyllium to fill a highway department winter salt shed.
I took it all, but nothing got much better. And I discovered that some of my co-workers were suffering with the same symptoms — some of them for years. Horrors.
I refused to surrender.
So I turned to the good doctor: Doctor Schulze. You’re probably aware of him. He’s the guy with the products that claim to clean out your system like an industrial vacuum.
He has a multi-day, two-step regimen and we happened to have it on hand. So I pulled out the pamphlet and started to read.
“Charcoal,” I read, “which is the main ingredient of the second step of this program, is very cooling and soothing. If you have IBS symptoms, do not use step one — it is too harsh — but proceed directly to step two.”
Okay, doc, I’m willing to try anything.
If you have never done the Dr. Schulze cleanse, it is difficult to describe what the step two drink is like. Imagine powdered charcoal floating like gray scum on top of a glass of water. You’ve got to feel pretty bad to be willing to give it a try. I did. Stir, hold your nose and drink.
But the next day — hallelujah! — things were slightly less debilitating. It was helping! I did it for a few more days, which was as long as I could handle it, and then went back to plain old psyllium.
I hit a plateau where things weren’t unbearable, but they were far from good. I was finally able to leave the house, maybe even go for a walk. But something was still very wrong. I began to think that this was going to be me for life and it was a pretty depressing prospect. So back to the drugstore I went.
“How bad is it?” they asked.
“Horrible,” I said.
What I needed, I was told, was the institutional strength seven-day probiotic regimen, to be followed by a maintenance supplement indefinitely.
“You also need fish oil,” I was informed. “Trust me — it tastes okay.”
And it does. Remarkably, it tastes like a tablespoonful of lemon creamsicle. Where the fish is I cannot say — but thank you, whoever disguised it.
I took my vitamins, I took the fish oil, I took the probiotics. I finished the seven-day regimen and switched to the maintenance probiotics. And it worked. It worked in a week.
I have no idea why my problems started. I don’t know whether they’re gone for good. But if you’re suffering and are just too embarrassed to ask, this is information you should have.
First, the “experts” say stress doesn’t cause IBS. Yet they say one way to reduce the symptoms is to reduce stress. I find that somewhat suspicious. I think stress is a major contributor to a flareup.
I started meditating. I’m learning Tai Chi. I started paying attention to my thoughts as I drove to work and began to laugh at myself when I began rehearsing both sides of conversations that haven’t happened yet. I am, I have decided, a total neurotic. Laughing helps.
I cut down on coffee. This is a huge sacrifice. I love coffee. But I have cut my usual six to eight cups a day to two to four, and then I switch to green tea. I am sufficiently caffeinated.
Here are some other foods that may worsen IBS symptoms: fatty foods, milk products, chocolate, alcohol, caffeinated sodas and fancy latte coffee drinks, and carbonated drinks (soda again).
Foods with fiber help, but introduce them slowly. My system melted down after a week’s worth of salads during a hot spell this past summer. Healthy stuff, little by little.
Eat smaller meals.
I’m also convinced that all the chemicals in our daily diet don’t help matters. Whole foods are a lot easier to process.
Stop stressing and try to enjoy your life. Fit something into every day that you really enjoy. Jump off the hamster wheel as often as you can.
In other words, do the things you know you’re supposed to do to take care of yourself. Your colon will stop demanding attention, and that is a very good thing.++