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Body-Mind Therapies and Gastrointestinal Disorder

Studies suggest that a variety of mind-body therapies are helpful in reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and chronic pancreatitis. The therapies include cognitive therapy, hypnotherapy, and a sequence of Iyengar yoga poses to manage pain and anxiety. Mechanisms for why these therapies are successful are unclear. Until more studies determine the causal factors, however, sufferers of the various conditions are simply happy to have means to manage symptoms. In a study that used cognitive therapy, patients with irritable bowel syndrome symptoms experienced relief after only four sessions, according to Jeffrey M. Lackner, PsyD, director of the behavioral medicine clinic and assistant professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine, SUNY, as reported in HealthDay News. Researchers divided 59 patients into two therapy groups and a wait list. One therapy group received treatment for 10 weeks, the other for 4 weeks. In each course, instructors taught problem-solving skills and muscle relaxation. Over 70% of participants in both courses reported symptom improvements.

Two studies used hypnotherapy to help patients cope with irritable bowel syndrome symptoms: One followed 87 patients; the other, 48. In each study, approximately half of the participants were assigned to 1-hour of “gut-directed” hypnotherapy per week for 12 weeks. The remaining participants served as control groups. Fifty-two percent of hypnotherapy subjects improved, compared to only 32% of control group subjects. The study that used yoga as an intervention focused on helping patients with chronic pancreatitis cope with symptoms of pain and anxiety. Twenty-four out of 30 patients completed the program, a 12-week course of three 1-hour Iyengar yoga classes per week. There was no control group. Investigators conducted pre- and postevaluations of pain, weight, average diet and amount of pain medication used. After the 12-week yoga program, a majority of participants reported less pain, had gained weight and had reduced their use of pain medication.

The irritable bowel syndrome studies were presented at a panel at the 2006 annual meeting for Digestive Disease Week held in Los Angeles. The chronic pancreatitis study was published in Gut (2006; 55 [7], 1051). Investigators in all four studies agreed that more research is needed to determine why these therapies are helpful.

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