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Irritable bowel syndrome and flaxseed

Created date

October 22nd, 2018
Andrew Kundrat, M.D. Medical Director, Riderwood Silver Spring, Md.

Andrew Kundrat, M.D.

Medical Director, Riderwood

Silver Spring, Md.

Health and wellness experts practice exclusively at Erickson Living communities. Dr. Kundrat received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and his medical degree from Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital/Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pa. He completed his internship at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, Va., and his residency at Eastern Virginia School of Medicine in Norfolk, Va. Board-certified in internal medicine and geriatric medicine, he joined Riderwood in September 2008.

Please note: The following questions were submitted by readers. The answers are intended for your general information and should not replace a doctor’s medical advice.

Q. My doctor diagnosed me with irritable bowel syndrome, but I also burp frequently and have burning in my throat. Are those symptoms also related to irritable bowel syndrome?

A. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can cause abdominal cramping; bloating; excess gas; and a change in bowel habits, including frequency, constipation, diarrhea, or a combination of all of these. Since IBS affects the large intestine, however, it may not be responsible for symptoms that involve your upper gastrointestinal system. Frequent burping and burning in the esophagus are typically signs of gastrointestinal reflux disease, but these symptoms could also be attributable to something else. It’s important for you to contact your doctor as soon as possible to find out the cause. As with most medical concerns, a new symptom or significant change from a baseline state should prompt an evaluation.

Q. Will flaxseed lower my cholesterol?

A. Flaxseed in its natural form contains fiber and is a good plant source of healthy fats. There is conflicting scientific evidence, however, regarding cholesterol-lowering abilities, whether it’s taken in its natural form or in supplements. One conclusion drawn from a review of 28 studies on the topic was that flaxseed in some form may lower cholesterol slightly only in people who had fairly high cholesterol levels to begin with. Regardless of the lack of evidence for health benefits, people take supplements containing flaxseed or flaxseed oil for a variety of reasons besides cholesterol control, including constipation, diabetes, and hot flashes.

If you want to take flaxseed, talk to your doctor first. Like other dietary supplements, it’s not regulated by the FDA, so its safety and effectiveness has not been proven. Thinking “It can’t hurt, so it may help” is a common past attitude about supplemental products. However, with the complexity of modern day pharmacology and potential for medication interaction, I recommend patients use only proven treatments and medication as a general approach.