Starting high school offers challenges for most students, but Molly’s freshman year began with such troublesome health issues that her ability to even attend school was in serious jeopardy. Almost every morning, she was hit by waves of terrible nausea and had to take a Dramamine® pill just to ride the school bus. While waiting for the bus, she would be overcome by a sense of dread and panic as she anticipated the possibility of severe abdominal pains (which she experienced about three days a week), followed by an urgent need to get to a bathroom. Access to a bathroom was not always easy though, especially since some of Molly’s teachers didn’t believe her.
Once these pains started, Molly would need to make at least four or five trips to the bathroom, spaced anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes apart, as she experienced vomiting followed by severe diarrhea. With each bout, the pains would worsen, bringing tears and screams, but little relief.
Molly had experienced digestive problems in one form or another since infancy, but they were intensifying, and conventional medical treatments weren’t helping. She had run the gamut of specialists, testing, diets, and antibiotics. The next step would be endoscopy and exploratory surgery to determine a possible cause for Molly’s illness. Her doctors suspected, however, that she had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), for which there is no known cause, nor conventional medical cure.
Irritable, inflammatory conditions on the rise
Molly is just one of an estimated seven million Americans who’ve been diagnosed with chronic irritable or inflammatory bowel problems, ranging from the more serious Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis, to the more benign IBS. In fact, millions more likely suffer from these illnesses since symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea tend to go unreported. People may be embarrassed to seek help or they chalk their symptoms up to dietary indiscretions or “nervous stomach”, while self- medicating with over-the-counter drugs.
According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, these illnesses have no known cause, though theories abound. They include heredity, abnormal allergic response, and stress as possible causal or exacerbating factors. Similarly, conventional medical experts believe there is no known cure, although they try to manage the illnesses with anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, anti-diarrheals, laxatives, antidepressants, corticosteroids, anti-spasmodics, or surgery. What is certain, however, is that the incidence of irritable and inflammatory bowel illnesses has increased in the last 30 years.
A culprit known as spastic colon
Molly’s diagnosis of IBS, otherwise known as spastic colon, is typically characterized by chronic symptoms of abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and sometimes constipation. Ten to twenty-two percent of otherwise healthy U.S. adults, primarily women, are said to experience IBS symptoms to a lesser or greater degree. Experts say that unlike colitis or Crohn’s disease, IBS is not a disease per se because they can’t find evidence of pathology in the digestive tract. Instead, they call it a functional disorder, meaning that the bowel just doesn’t work correctly, perhaps because the nerves and muscles of the bowel are extra sensitive. (The GI tract is rich with nervesâ€”second only to the spinal cord and brain.)
A mind-body connection
Recent research is linking psychological factors to physiological functioning in many of these digestive disorders. Indeed, the mind-body component of chronic disease has been receiving attention with the help of people like the Dalai Lama and Jon Kabat-Zinn. Their work on mindfulness-based stress reduction has been incorporated into pain management programs since the early 1980s, and meditation and stress reduction are now becoming standard advice for those with irritable and inflammatory bowel disorders too.
While it is true that conscious awareness plays a role in the reduction of stress and thus the symptoms it provokes, chronic diseases often cannot be alleviated by stress reduction alone. Try as they might, many people simply cannot stop the thoughts, worries, and anxieties that cause their suffering.
And this brings us back to the basic philosophy of homeopathy and the words of its founder, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann. In the Organon of Medicine, Aphorism 5, he says, “It will help the physician to bring about a cure if he can determine the most probable exciting cause in an acute disease and the most significant phase in the evolution of a chronic, long-lasting disease, enabling him to discover its underlying cause.” In other words, Hahnemann tells the physician to ascertain the totality of symptoms. This is precisely the way in which homeopathy sets itself apart from conventional/allopathic medicine. Homeopathy treats the whole personâ€”the body and the mindâ€”and pays attention to every blessedly strange, rare, and peculiar symptom and personality trait of the patient. And this is what I set out to do for Molly when her mother first brought her to my office for treatment.
Molly’s struggle with IBS
“One day, my son suggested we look into homeopathy for Molly”, Molly’s mother reported. “Since I knew nothing about it, I asked our pediatrician, who’s been treating Molly for 15 years. Although he doesn’t believe in homeopathy, he referred me to you and said that a colleague highly recommended you.”
At this first meeting on a cool spring day, Molly, a lovely and lively adolescent, was wearing a tank top, had flushed cheeks, and sat with her face turned toward an open window. Molly and her mother described how her attacks of pain, vomiting, and diarrhea interfered with school and social activities, and this made her feel depressed. During an attack, Molly perspired profusely and would callfor her mom if available. In a cold sweat, Molly would remove her clothes; the back of her neck and forehead would feel clammy. Afterwards, she’d feel extremely fatigued and headachy. What had begun as her “once a month stomach aches” had progressed to three times a week, with no clear pattern of occurrence.
Molly also had panic attacks at night. She was afraid of someone breaking into the house. “If I hear a little creak on the stairs, I think someone is in the house and is going to kill me. I pull the blankets over my head and close my eyes“, Molly explained. She slept in a tank top with the comforter pulled up to her neck. She kept the television on all the time because it made her feel like someone was there with her.
Molly was very sociable. She cared a lot about what friends thought of her, and it upset her if they talked about her or made fun of her. In middle school, she carried a note giving her permission to leave the classroom at any time. But as her condition became worse, she had to use the nurse’s bathroom because classmates made fun of her.
Although Molly desired the good opinions of others, she admitted that she could be overbearing and domineering. “If my friends don’t listen to me or if I’m trying to talk and someone talks over me, I’ll tell them to shut up”, she said. Her mother noted that Molly was jealous and wanted all the attention. Molly confirmed it saying, “I want my friends to myself. I don’t want to share them. If they do something without me, I get really mad and have a temper tantrum.”
Mainstream studies support probiotic use
A recent study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that 50% of IBS patients who supplemented with acidophilus showed a significant improvement in their symptoms. A 2005 double- blind study in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that IBS patients who supplemented with a particular blend of probiotics (which included lactobacillus and bifidobacterium) decreased their symptoms by 42% compared to 6% in the placebo group.
When Molly and her friends made movies, she had to be the director. If any-one messed up, she got mad because she wanted everything to be perfect. Likewise, when taking notes in school, if she wrote the wrong word, she had to cross it out and start all over again. “I can’t stand it to be messed up. I like it to be perfect. It needs to be right because if I copy it incorrectly and then go back to study it, it could be wrong and then I’ll fail.”
Molly had obsessive thoughts, such as the feeling that someone was in the house, as well as an obsession with books and movies. For example, when she read a book, she read it for weeks on end. When she watched a movie that she liked, she watched it over and over againâ€”and wanted the DVD and a sequel. When she would watch a medical show and see an operation, she would go into a panic, feeling as if it was actually happening to her. This led to severe anxiety attacks where she felt that she couldn’t breathe. Nevertheless, she was obsessed with these shows and watched them anyway.
Molly began having menstrual periods at roughly the same time she started high school. She would get “deathly sick”, and she missed so many classes that her grades were dropping. She would get anticipation anxiety before a report card was due, and a severe attack would ensue. “I would be walking up the stairs to get my report card and my legs would start shaking and I would start sweating and my stomach would get tight because I was nervous“, Molly said.
Molly also had a history of seasonal allergies and frequent strep infections, ear infections, and sinusitis with yellow-green mucus. Each year, she took multiple rounds of antibiotics to alleviate her symptoms.
A medicine for Molly
For a homeopath, this case represents a “classic” situation requiring the remedy Pulsatilla. A person needing Pulsatilla will often have a flushed face and desire for fresh air, as Molly had at the initial consult. While I might also have considered Cyclamen for Molly, because both these remedies have an affinity to the digestive tract and female organs, a person needing Cyclamen typically doesn’t feel better from open air. I analyzed the following characteristic symptoms for Molly using The Complete Repertory (Chart prepared with MacRepertory software):
- Rectum: Diarrhea from fear, with internal heat and external coldness of body
- Mind: Anxiety, difficult respiration,
- Mind: Desire for company, and aggravated while alone
- Nausea: Pain in abdomen
- Generals: Cold air ameliorates; must have windows open
- Nose: Discharge of yellow/green mucus.
The following strange, rare, and peculiar symptoms from T.F. Allen’s A Primer of Materia Medica confirmed my choice of Pulsatilla for Molly:
- Internal heat at night with desire to be covered.
- Restless sleep at night on account of heat, but very sleepy and heavy in morning and cannot wake.
- Persistent nausea with nearly all symptoms at night and during menses.
And Chitkara’s Materia Medica of the Mind confirmed that Pulsatilla’s indications include such symptoms as: intolerant of contradictions, fear of the opinions of others and of being humiliated (desire for perfection), and persistent thoughts (obsessions).
Homeopathic treatment delayed
After selecting Pulsatilla, I scheduled an appointment for Molly and her mother to get the prescription. When Molly’s mother saw the size of the homeopathic pellets, “no bigger than ice cream sprinkles”, she doubted that something that small, taken only one time, could take care of so many ailments. They left the office without the remedy.
Later, Molly’s mother searched the Internet and read something about the Pulsatilla plant that worried her. So she went back to the pediatrician for advice; he also researched Pulsatilla and, not finding enough information to satisfy himself, suggested that Molly try another gastroenterologist rather than take the homeopathic Pulsatilla. Like many mothers, Molly’s mom became very cautious when the pediatrician didn’t agree with the proposed “alternative” treatment.
Molly pleads for help
The opportunity to overcome prejudice often comes when the patient herself demands help. In Molly’s mother’s words: “Two weeks after I refused the remedy, Molly suffered a severe, disabling stomachache and begged for help. She asked to see you. I realized that it was not about me but about helping her, so we came back.”
On May 2, 2005, Molly took the dose of Pulsatilla 200c offered. I also gave her a chiropractic adjustment and a calming aromatherapy massage. Ten days later, her mom reported that Molly had become a much happier child. She had no anxiety at night anymore! She was going out with friends and functioning well. She’d had only one wave of nausea and a few hours of mild intestinal cramping, but was able to sleep them off.
One month after taking the remedy, Molly reported that she felt “happier in every way”â€”no diarrhea, no sweats, no anxiety. “I’m doing better in school now,” she added. “And since I feel better, I haven’t been getting as frustrated.” She awakened more easily each morning, without nausea or nasal stuffiness. “I tend to be more cold now than hot”, she remarked.
Over the next several months, Molly maintained this improvement. In October 2005, she did have a bout of diarrhea and anxiety in conjunction with her menses. She took another dose of Pulsatilla 200c, and was soon back to normal.
More than a year has passed since Molly began treatment, and she is completely free of IBS symptoms. She hasn’t needed to take Dramamine®, prescription and over-the-counter gas relievers, or antibiotics since that first dose of Pulsatilla. She no longer walks around school with a bathroom passâ€”she uses the students’ bathroom like all her friends. She’s socially active, her grades have improved, and her depression is gone.
Earlier this year, I received a letter from Molly’s mother that puts it all into perspective. “Today is January 20, 2006, and as I write, I am waiting for my 15-year-old daughter to arrive home from school after taking her mid-term. You see, last year at this time, she could not take her midterm, but had to take a make-up due to severe stomach problems. Thanks to you, I have a new child in my home. You have given her back her teenage years.”
Your issues are in your tissues
This case, like many other cases of irritable and inflammatory bowel problems I’ve seen, demonstrates that there is often a strong connection between emotional issues and bowel problems. For example, I used homeopathy to successfully treat another teenager with Crohn’s disease, a more serious digestive disorder. This girl also wanted a lot of attention, worried what others thought of her, and had some obsessive thinking patterns. Much like Molly, this girl would get extremely anxious before and during bouts of diarrhea, wanted the radio on for company (Molly needed the TV on), and wanted her father nearby during an episode.* (Interestingly, this girl was referred to me by Molly’s pediatrician, after Molly’s successful treatment.)
Not only do emotional symptoms often exacerbate the physical complaint, they may even be at the root of a patient’s physical problem. As a chiropractor, I am particularly aware that a person’s emotional issues often reveal themselves in their tissues.
All glory to homeopathy
This case also illustrates the frustration that parents and their children experience as they search for answers to an imponderable illness like IBS. When we educate parents and children about homeopathy, they become empowered to take care of themselves.
Molly continues to do well. She recently joined a local theater group and is thoroughly enjoying herself, even playing a starring role! This would have been unthinkable a year ago, because she could barely leave her house! As Dr. S.K. Banerjea, a teacher of mine, used to say at the conclusion of every successful case, “All glory to homeopathy!”
If you are suffering with irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel conditions, I recommend that you consult a professionally trained homeopath. (Find one at www.nationalcenterforhomeopathy.org). The homeopath will tailor treatment to your unique, individual symptomsâ€”and the results, as in Molly’s case, may astound you. Homeopathy has much to offer people suffering with these conditions.
If your symptoms are of a milder nature, you may first try using homeopathic remedies yourself for symptomatic relief of gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation with the aid of a good homeopathic self-care book.
I also recommend probiotic supplements, which contain “friendly” bacteria (as in yogurt and cultured dairy products), known to stabilize the intestinal flora, as well as fish oils rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are known to decrease inflammation. These options, plus dietary changes, are gaining acceptance in the conventional medical community and are recommended with increasing frequency. Adding fiber to the diet is always a good ideaâ€”I advise using ground flax seed. I also recommend breathing and mindfulness meditation techniques as a way to forestall “attacks” and to decrease the intensity of an acute situation.
* Every patient with an irritable or inflammatory bowel condition will not be helped by the same homeopathic remedy. Although this patient had some symptoms similar to Molly’s, the curative remedy for her was a different remedyâ€”Carcinosin. A homeopath chooses a remedy from among hundreds of possibilities, based on the totality of that patient’s unique symptoms.
Nancy Gahles, DC, CCH, RSHom(NA), is a chiropractor who has been in practice for 23 years. She is a Certified Classical Homeopath with offices in Manhattan and Belle Harbor, NY. Dr. Gahles is the Director of Health and Harmony Wellness Education, providing consultations and workshops on Complementary and Integrative Medicine. She is a health and science columnist for The Wave, Rockaway’s newspaper. She may be reached at [email protected].