People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may actually be allergic to gravity, scientists have suggested.
The true cause of IBS is not known, but one scientist thinks it could be due to gravity’s pull on intestines in the body.
The abdomen is kept in place by muscle and bones, but if the body cannot handle gravity’s force, it could squash the spine and cause organs to shift downwards.
This could lead to symptoms of IBS including pain, cramping, lightheadedness and back problems, according to Dr Brennan Spiegel, director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai in California.
Some people are better equipped to deal with gravity’s pull down on our organs, scientists have suggested
It could even cause an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut — another cause of IBS.
Between 25 and 45 million Americans are blighted by the condition, which is more common in women than men. Its main symptoms are stomach pain, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
Dr Brennan Spiegel theorizes that some people are just better at coping with gravity than others.
WHAT IS IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common intestinal disorder which results in stomach pain, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
The condition affects between 25 and 45 million Americans.
Roughly two in three of them are female.
Most people get their first IBS symptoms before aged 40.
The cause of the disorder is unknown, but it is thought to be down to abnormalities in gut bacteria.
Symptoms can be managed, but there is no cure for IBS.
Treatment consists of self-care through making changes to diet, lifestyle and exercise.
The low Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols (FOMAP) diet is thought to be effective for people with IBS.
It contains eggs, meat, fruit and vegetables, while avoiding dairy and wheat.
For instance, individuals might have a ‘stretchy’ suspension system where the intestines hang down.
Other people have spinal problems which cause the diaphragm to sag or the stomach to stick out, which results in a squashed abdomen and can set off mobility problems.
The theory might explain why exercise can help IBS, as exercise strengthens the support system holding up organs.
Dr Spiegel’s gravity theory extends beyond the intestines.
He said: ‘Our nervous system also evolved in a world of gravity, and that might explain why many people feel abdominal ‘butterflies’ when anxious.
‘It’s curious that these ‘gut feelings’ also occur when falling toward Earth, like when dropping on a roller coaster or in a turbulent airplane.
‘The nerves in the gut are like an ancient G-force detector that warns us when we’re experiencing — or about to experience — a dangerous fall. It’s just a hypothesis, but people with IBS might be prone to over-predicting G-force threats that never occur.’
People react differently to gravity, Dr Spiegel argued, leading to a spectrum of ‘G-force vigilance’.
Some will enjoy the hair-rising feeling of dropping on a rollercoaster, while others will be wishing it was over.
Dr Spiegel said other conditions may also be caused by gravity intolerance, including anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue.
He claims that a body that struggles to manage gravity may also struggle to pump serotonin – dubbed the ‘love’ hormone – and other neurotransmitters around the body.
He said: ‘Dysregulated serotonin may be a form of gravity failure.
‘When serotonin biology is abnormal, people can develop IBS, anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue. These may be forms of gravity intolerance.’
Other theories are that IBS is a disorder arising from the interaction between the gut and the brain, because behavioral therapy and substances like serotonin can help.
Another idea is that IBS is down to harmful bacteria in the gut. Studies indicate the condition can be controlled with antibiotics and a diet with lots of eggs, meat, grains and fruit and vegetables.
Gut hypersensitivity, atypical serotonin levels or a dysregulated nervous system could also be to blame.
More research is required to test Dr Spiegel’s idea and look at potential treatments.
Dr Shelly Lu, the women’s guild chair in gastroenterology and director of the division of digestive and liver diseases at Cedars-Sinai, said the theory was ‘provocative’.
‘The best thing about it is that it is testable,’ she said.
She added: ‘If proved correct, it is a major paradigm shift in the way we think about IBS and possibly treatment as well.’
The hypothesis was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.