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Some exciting news is coming out of Belgium concerning Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a chronic and sometimes debilitating condition that frequently leaves many people in pain. Adding frustration to pain, doctors don’t have a firm grasp on IBS and often diagnose it based only on their symptoms. 

This study, which is published in the journal Nature, is significant because researchers may have discovered the cause of IBS, which lies in the large intestine. They say that they’ve found similarities between how people with IBS experience abdominal pain and how some people with allergies react to food. 

IBS affects around one and five people and causes them to deal with abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, and changes in their bowel movements, sometimes severe. This discovery could be a turning point to starting new treatments and therapies for those with the crippling condition.

Researchers have long understood that eating gluten-free diets could provide some relief, but they don’t really understand why since many patients aren’t allergic to the foods they’re eating, nor do they have celiac disease

A team of gastroenterologists at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) says individuals with IBS regularly report their symptoms start after food poisoning. This prompted the group to treat IBS as a food sensitivity. In their investigation, they injected mice with a stomach bug and afterward with an egg white protein commonplace in experiments because it provokes an immune response. When the infection cleared, the mice got the protein again to check whether their immune systems had become sensitized to it.

The results revealed that the mice had IBS, along with digestive intolerance and increased abdominal pain. Researchers then successfully navigated the series of events in the immune response that connects the digestion of egg white protein to the mast cells’ activation. Essentially, the immune response only occurs in the part of the intestine infected by the disruptive bacteria. It didn’t create more broad symptoms of a food allergy or sensitivity.

At that point, the study authors experimented with 12 IBS patients and found that individuals reacted similarly to the mice. Treating patients with antihistamines resulted in improvement because it stopped the reaction. 

Lead study author Professor Guy Boeckxstaens says in a university release, “Very often these patients are not taken seriously by physicians, and the lack of an allergic response is used as an argument that this is all in the mind, and that they don’t have a problem with their gut physiology.” He went on to add, “With these new insights, we provide further evidence that we are dealing with a real disease. At one end of the spectrum, the immune response to a food antigen is very local, as in IBS. At the other end of the spectrum is food allergy, comprising a generalized condition of severe mast cell activation, with an impact on breathing, blood pressure, and so on.” He concludes with, “Knowing the mechanism that leads to mast cell activation is crucial and will lead to novel therapies for these patients. Mast cells release many more compounds and mediators than just histamine, so if you can block the activation of these cells, I believe you will have a much more efficient therapy.”

This is excellent news for those who have dealt with IBS. Knowing that your suffering isn’t just “in your head” is just the beginning. Getting to the root of the issue is a significant breakthrough in IBS research. The more insight and understanding regarding IBS, the better the treatments become. They’re on the right track. Relief may be on the way very soon!