Listen to your gut, veg*n! (Yet another book review.)

February 25th, 2008 8:18 pm by Kelly Garbato

Theresa Cheung’s THE IBS HEALING PLAN: NATURAL WAYS TO BEAT YOUR SYMPTOMS isn’t explicitly a veg*n book; in fact, the author only discusses the benefits of a vegetarian diet in treating IBS for two short paragraphs (that’s half a page, for you bean counters). Even so, I thought I might post the review here, since I was already writing one for Library Thing and all. Besides, animal rights activists are more likely than not to be female, as are IBS sufferers, and a diet plays a key role in each. So I’m sure there’s some crossover there, is what I’m saying.

Since I reviewed an advance copy of the book, I haven’t yet been able to post my review to Amazon, so sorry but no permalink. Try checking back on or after April 28, 2008 – or, if you’ve got a Library Thing account, go give me some props there.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my hourly fiber fix. Ahem.

The IBS Healing Plan

Listen to your gut!

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(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

About two years ago, I started to experience some of the classic symptoms of IBS. It began with some minor abdominal bloating, which I initially mistook for weight gain. Gradually the bloating worsened, until my midsection was at time so distended that I looked pregnant. After roughly six months of intermittent bloating came the constipation, which sent me on a weeklong binge of fiber and internet research. A week later, I was fairly certain that I was suffering from IBS. Rather than visit the doctor (who, I was certain, would just advise me to eat more fiber), I resolved to work up a treatment plan and try to tackle the issue on my own.

A year later, and I am mostly IBS-free. Though I occasionally experience minor bloating, it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be (instead of feeling seven months pregnant, now it’s more like three). Some of the bloating is no doubt due to my diet: as a vegan, I don’t eat any animal products whatsoever (no meat, dairy, eggs, honey, gelatin, etc.). As a result, I get most of my protein through beans and processed soy foods (i.e., faux meat products such as Tofurky and Boca Burgers). This can be problematic, as such foods can cause gas, yet I can’t abstain from them given my other, more pressing, dietary restrictions. Even so, I’ve managed to minimize the impact of IBS on my overall health and well-being.

Since IBS research is still in its infancy – and my plan can always stand to be tweaked – I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and information. Thus, when I saw that Library Thing was offering up Theresa Cheung’s THE IBS HEALING PLAN: NATURAL WAYS TO BEAT YOUR SYMPTOMS via their Early Reviewer program, I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy.

Overall, THE IBS TREATMENT PLAN is a short but useful guide to managing your IBS symptoms. Cheung begins with a brief description of IBS, and then spends much of the rest of the book outlining various types of treatments. She covers all the bases, including food and diet; vitamins and supplements; stress and stress management; exercise and fitness, with a focus on yoga; prescription medications; and alternative therapies such as massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, acupuncture/acupressure, and heat therapy.

While researching my own treatment plan, I combed through the internet and took copious notes on possible home remedies I might try. Some of these worked (e.g., fiber supplements, dietary fiber, probiotics), some didn’t (calcium, magnesium, digestive enzymes), and others provided only temporary relief (Digestive Advantage IBS, charcoal pills, yoga, plum juice). Cheung discusses just about every remedy I’ve tried (or thought about trying). I also found some new advice that I can’t wait to try out, such as fennel seeds for bloating.

Her list is comprehensive, though it might be a bit too comprehensive: while I’m all in favor of giving IBS sufferers all the info they need to tailor their own unique treatment plan – after all, IBS symptoms and remedies are as varied as those who suffer from IBS – not all remedies are created equal. For example, fiber is a necessary component of a healthy diet whether you suffer from IBS or not; thus, the first factor an IBS sufferer should examine is her fiber intake. The benefits of grapefruit seed, on the other hand, are a bit more questionable.

To her credit, Cheung is quick to provide caveats for the more “fringe” remedies. In many cases, she’ll offer a brief summary of the research on these non-traditional remedies, or preface the discussion with a non-committal “People think…” or “It is suspected…” And yet, by placing all these remedies on equal footing, I’m afraid that she might give readers the impression that all are equally valid and effective. Furthermore, she rarely cites any research for the more tried and true IBS remedies, which only confuses the issue and makes the less-proven remedies seem superior to the more widely accepted (and researched) ones. This might have been avoided by presenting the remedies in a ranked list (by efficacy or abundance of supporting evidence, for example), rather than alphabetical order, or perhaps by including a brief summary of relevant research for each and every remedy, instead of just the questionable ones.

Even so, I don’t fault Cheung for including the non-traditional remedies. Most of these seem to be somewhat useful, though not necessarily for their stated reasons. For example, I have no doubt that acupressure can be of use to some IBS suffers – but not because it helps your energy flow properly through your Qi’s. More likely, the massage simply feels good and helps to ease stress. So although I think Cheung does a disservice by not scrutinizing some of the New Age pseudoscientific treatments she describes, it’s not to the book’s detriment. However, the one sole exception is her discussion of homeopathy, which is utter nonsense and should not have been included in THE IBS HEALING PLAN.

Homeopathy follows the same general principle as vaccinations. Vaccinations consist of live but weakened or dead/inactivated forms of pathogens, designed to introduce the pathogens to the body in a harmless (or less harmful) form and allow the body to build resistance (immunity) to the pathogens. Similarly, homeopathic practitioners claim that they can heal disorders by prescribing substances that will produce symptoms similar to that of the disorder. The main problem with homeopathy is that homeopathic remedies undergo “serial dilution” – the “healing” substance is diluted (with water, sugar, or alcohol) to such a degree that homeopathic medicines don’t contain a single atom of the healing material. For instance, a homeopathic substance that carries the “2C dilution” designation contains one part of the original solution to ten thousand parts of diluent. A common dilution is 30C, but 200C is not unheard of. According to the warped logic of proponents of homeopathy, the higher the dilution, the more powerful the remedy – even though the higher you go, the less “healing material” is present in the solution. It’s pure nonsense, and the only mention it deserves in self-help health book such as this is a sound debunking. You’d be better off donating the cost of such quackery to a non-profit organization and basking in the warm, stress-reducing altruistic afterglow.

Aside from this relative dearth of scientific skepticism, which actually only minimally affects the book’s usefulness, my only other quibble is with the lack of attention Cheung gives to those with special dietary restrictions, specifically vegetarianism and veganism. And this isn’t only because I happen to be a vegan! Rather, a veg*n diet can both exacerbate and alleviate IBS symptoms: while some veg*n foods can cause gas and bloating, a meat- and dairy-free diet is sometimes helpful in the treatment of IBS. Red meat, dark poultry meat and poultry skins, egg yolks, butter, and dairy products of all stripes can trigger IBS symptoms – as can some of the common staples of a veg*n diet. Thus, a more in-depth discussion of a meat- and dairy-free – but IBS-friendly – diet would have been welcome. All in all, Cheung only devotes two paragraphs to vegetarianism, and misses some real opportunities to single out veg*n alternatives to non-veg*n foods. Soy yogurt is one example: Cheung points to yogurt as a dietary source of probiotics on three separate occasions, but only mentions soy yogurt as an IBS-friendly option twice. The third time (which is actually the first), she laments the fact that (dairy) yogurt is high in fat and to be avoided, without pointing to soy yogurt as a healthy choice. It’s almost as though she only discovered soy yogurt halfway through the book and didn’t bother revising what she’d already written!

Overall, I recommend using THE IBS HEALING PLAN as a jumping off point for further research. Cheung has compiled a comprehensive introduction to the many IBS remedies available, ranging from clinically tested prescription medicines to downright frauds. Most fall somewhere in between, and it’s up to consumers to do their own research and experimentation and devise a treatment plan that suits their individual needs. THE IBS HEALING PLAN is a good start. But be skeptical, and above all else, listen to your gut!

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This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined.

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One Response to “Listen to your gut, veg*n! (Yet another book review.)”

  1. easyVegan.info » Blog Archive » VeganMoFo, Day 23: In which I copy the cool veg*n bloggers. Says:

    [...] seed. I’m usually a green tea gal, but fennel’s supposed to help with IBS. [...]

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