Gut feeling for a good remedy

Targeting stress was key to curing a painful bowel complaint, says Emma Mahony

It wasn’t until Melanie Smith sought help from a homoeopath a year ago to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that she was able to look back on seven years of suffering and see it for what it was: stress-related. “Just discovering that I was pregnant, with the stress of a major life change, triggered a flare-up,” says Smith, 35, mother of two boys, 3 and 18 months.

Like many of the million sufferers in the UK, Smith was in the dark as to why she was afflicted until that realisation. But while the cause of IBS, the most common of all diseases diagnosed by gastroenterologists, is often hard to pinpoint, the symptoms follow a traditional pattern: swelling, soreness and bloating in the stomach, either constipation or diarrhoea, and occasional blood and mucus. The unpleasant condition had dogged Smith since the age of 27, but she had learnt to live with it while holding down a demanding job as a modern-languages teacher at a secondary school in Surrey.

Conventional medicine did not help. She visited her GP twice at the onset, and was referred to a specialist gastroenterologist, a surgical consultant and a medical consultant, as well as having a colonoscopy to check for ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. “The colonoscopy showed inflammation,” Smith recalls, “but it was inconclusive and I found it an ordeal.” While IBS affects between 10 and 20 per cent of the UK’s population at any given time, treating it is not always effective. People with IBS have what appears to be a disturbance in the interaction between the gut, the brain and the autonomic nervous system that regulates the bowels, and anything from diet, levels of serotonin (the mood-controlling hormone) to emotional factors are cited as the cause.

Before she became pregnant four years ago, Smith had tried dietary changes to improve her symptoms, preparing fruit and vegetable juices. But as a vegetarian who ate some fish, she considered her diet to be good. At the same time, she was given medication prescribed by the hospital. “I had blind faith in my treatment,” she says, “and I didn’t see it as a long-term problem.”

That all changed after the pregnancy and birth of her first child. “I had been told by a GP that during pregnancy the condition can get better, but mine was bad throughout. Then, postnatally, I had a huge flare-up, and was prescribed a high dosage of steroids, which gave me steroid psychosis in which I ballooned up and I went a bit loopy.” Coming off the steroids, Smith began to question her treatment, particularly because she was seeing a lot of different specialists.

When she fell pregnant and gave birth for the second time a year later, the condition flared up again, and again she was prescribed steroids. “I thought that they must know what they were doing,” says Smith. But she had chronic diarrhoea, requiring about 20 visits to the bathroom day and night, and she started losing weight. “I was breast-feeding, but all I could do was lie on the sofa with my two-year-old reading, cuddling the baby, while my mother cooked and cleaned.”

Feeling deeply depressed, Smith agreed to a friend’s suggestion of homoeopathy. And so, seven months after the birth of her second child, she went to see Kate Mead, a London-based homoeopath, last February. Nothing could have prepared her for the transformation. “She looked washed out,” recalls Mead, who had worked in the NHS for ten years as an auxiliary nurse before qualifying as a homoeopath from the Contemporary College of Homoeopathy in Exeter.

Source - Times