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Dr. Barbara Bolen

IBS and the Immune System

By February 10, 2009

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Evidence continues to mount that IBS is “not all in your head”. A recent study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that an immune system response may be responsible for IBS symptoms in some patients. According to the study’s abstract, biopsies of mucosal tissue were performed and the results analyzed for the presence of immune system cells. Comparisons were made among healthy controls, IBS patients, and patients who had microscopic or ulcerative colitis.

The results showed that compared to the healthy control subjects, IBS patients had a 72% increase in immune system cells. Half of the IBS patients had this increase. Compared to the patients who were diagnosed with either form of colitis, IBS patients had slightly lower immune system markers. Differences were seen in the types and amount of these immune system cells between male and female IBS patients. The amount of immune system cells was associated with symptoms of abdominal bloating and what the researchers call “dysmotility-like dyspepsia”.

This focus on immune system activity in IBS is a new avenue. The immediate benefit is the reassurance that you are not just “doing this to yourself” for some kind of crazy “attention” reason. The long-term benefit of studies like this one is that as IBS is better understood, the path toward better treatments become available.

For more on the science of IBS, see my article:

With research like this, I might have to add a Sixth Reason!


Cremon, C., et.a. “Mucosal Immune Activation in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Gender-Dependence and Association With Digestive Symptoms.American Journal of Gastroenterology 2009 104:392-400.

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