DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I’m a 46-year-old woman who has suffered from digestive problems for many years. I have had X-rays, scans and scope exams, and nothing has been found to explain my stomach pain and elimination difficulties. Finally, the doctor has declared that I have irritable bowel syndrome. He has left me hanging. I have no idea of the diet I should follow, and I have been given no medications. What works? – J.S.

Irritable bowel syndrome is seen daily in all doctor’s offices. One striking sign is a three-month alteration in bowel movements – constipation, diarrhea, or constipation alternating with diarrhea. Abdominal pain is another sign.

Often, the pain gets better after a bowel movement. Rectal passage of mucus is a frequent manifestation. Bloating and gaseousness are common problems. No blood test, no X-ray, no scan and no scope exam show anything is wrong. That doesn’t mean nothing is wrong. It might be that the coordinated contractions of the digestive tract muscles are in disarray, or it might be that the digestive tract is supersensitive to normal digestive muscle contractions.

IBS patients have to determine their own diet. Foods that are often found to be troublemakers include onions, celery, carrots, raisins, bananas, apricots, prunes, Brussels sprouts, pretzels and bagels. Eliminating these foods, one or two at a time, will allow you to see if they are upsetting your tract.

Another worthwhile trial is steering clear of dairy products. Your digestive tract might not have enough of the lactase enzyme, the enzyme needed to digest milk sugar. Some home remedies can curtail IBS signs and symptoms. Peppermint oil is one of them. Many IBS patients find it soothes their digestive tracts. So can the fiber psyllium. Two psyllium brand names are Metamucil and Fiberall.

Some find that introducing good bacteria into the digestive tract is beneficial. Align, a product produced by Proctor and Gamble, contains the bacterium Bifidobacterium infantis and might work for you.

Lastly, Xifaxan, an antibiotic that’s not absorbed, might ease your symptoms.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: It’s impossible for me to lose any weight unless I go on a starvation diet. It’s been this way all my life. I have to completely stop eating to get any loss of weight. When I start to eat again, the weight creeps back. My friends tell me this is a dangerous way to keep weight down. Why? – B.L.

With starvation, the body turns to protein for its energy. Stored protein is muscle. Much of the weight you lose through such stringent dieting is muscle weight – not a good thing. Yo-yo dieting – cyclical weight loss and weight gain – often produces a lowering of HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol and the kind that keeps arteries free of clogging buildup.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am afraid I have gotten into the laxative habit. For many years I have taken Metamucil. Has this done any permanent damage? I am regular with it, and I hate to give it up, but I don’t want to damage my colon either. How do I get off it? – M.A.

I don’t consider Metamucil a laxative. It’s fiber. Fiber keeps undigested food moist and eases its passage through the colon. You can stay on Metamucil for your entire life, if you desire and if it’s keeping you regular. You also can get fiber in other ways. Fruits, whole grains and vegetables are good fiber sources. Bran is another fiber food. Bran is the outer coat of grains, the coat that’s removed when grains are refined. You find bran in all health-food stores.

The constipation booklet discusses this common condition and its treatment in detail. Readers can obtain a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 504, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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