Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder often characterized by stomach pain and discomfort, chronic or recurrent diarrhea, constipation, or any combination of those symptoms. There is no test to definitively diagnose IBS. Instead, IBS is usually a catch-all term for digestive issues that other conditions, such as celiac disease or lactose intolerance, can’t explain.
Suppose you have a chronically upset stomach and trouble going to the bathroom, and there is no readily available explanation for those symptoms. In that case, you will most likely receive an IBS diagnosis. The syndrome is assigned as a diagnosis of exclusion.
According to the most recent statistics, it’s estimated that 5-10% of the population has IBS worldwide. In the U.S., specifically, IBS affects between 25 to 45 million people, and about 2 in 3 of those IBS sufferers are female. Compared to worldwide statistics, there are a lot more Americans with IBS than in other parts of the world.
Since IBS is a catch-all diagnosis, the exact cause of IBS is not known. The medical community understands that these digestive symptoms are caused by a disturbance in the way the gut, brain, and nervous systems interact, but outside of that, the exact cause is still unknown.
However, there is a new theory that is floating around. In a paper published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology, the author argues that IBS might be triggered by the body’s inability to manage gravity.
Here’s a quiz for you: how could IBS be related to gravity, but centralized to specific parts of the world?
That’s right. The invisible force that Isaac Newton discovered almost 400 years ago after watching an apple fall from a tree might be why 10% to 15% of people in the U.S. have IBS. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the Standard American Diet (SAD), the chronic stress we live under in a rat race, polarized society, or the lack of regular exercise and sleep most Americans suffer from.
Nope. It couldn’t be any of that. It must be the invisible force that has been around forever that is making our tummies hurt and messing with our poop.
The paper’s author explains that our nervous system evolved in a world of gravity, which is why many people feel abdominal butterflies, similar to those when you go down a roller coaster, when anxious. The author argues that if our body’s management of gravity fails for whatever reason, our diaphragm can slip down and compress our einsteins, possibly causing motility issues and bacterial overgrowth.
The key takeaway? We are no digestive experts here at the Daily Tonic, but this new hypothesis seems like a bit of a stretch. How can IBS be a form of “gravity intolerance,” yet the prevalence of IBS is higher in the U.S. than in other parts of the world? We aren’t physics experts either, but last I checked, gravity is the same no matter where you are on the planet. If IBS were caused by gravity, the only place that should have a different prevalence of IBS would be the moon or Mars.
While the gravity explanation for IBS is still just a hypothesis, headlines covering these crazy explanations are troubling because they detract from what is really the root cause of so many chronic health conditions. Diet and lifestyle changes are what we should be focused on to make us feel better. Not whether gravity might be giving us an upset stomach and the runs.
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