Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition characterized by abnormal bowel motility, pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. No one knows how or why IBS occurs, but gastroenterologist Brennan Spiegel of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles has proposed a new hypothesis about the causes of the disorder.
In an article published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, Spiegel argues that IBS is caused by the body’s inability to handle gravity. If our body’s normal gravity control fails for whatever reason, our diaphragm can slide down and squeeze our intestines, which can cause motility problems and excessive bacterial growth.
Spiegel argues that our nervous system evolved in a world of gravity, and this may explain why many people feel “butterflies” in their stomachs when they worry. The nerves in the gut are like an ancient overload detector that alerts us when we experience a dangerous fall.
According to Spiegel’s concept, a disordered response to gravity can also cause a gut-brain interaction disorder. Squeezing the gut can even affect the gut microbiome, causing hypersensitivity, inflammation or discomfort.
If IBS is caused by the body trying to cope with gravity, this may explain why physical therapy and exercise can be so helpful in relieving its symptoms. It may also explain why serotonin tends to be elevated in patients with IBS.
The good part of Spiegel’s hypothesis is that it is easy to test and does not rule out other theories of IBS. Currently, there is no definitive test for IBS, and its symptoms vary widely from patient to patient. As a result, the syndrome is usually diagnosed as a diagnosis of exclusion.
Today, about 10 percent of people worldwide are thought to suffer from the syndrome, and Spiegel is one of many scientists trying to figure out why. Other theories, such as those related to imbalances in the gut microbiome, stress, the nervous system and diet, have previously been proposed.
Although Spiegel’s hypothesis requires more research, it could be an important step in understanding the causes of IBS and developing new treatments for the disorder.