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Prescription 5-HTP for IBS

by
author image Rachel Elizabeth
Rachel Elizabeth has been writing and editing since 2006. Her work appears in the academic journal "Teaching of Psychology," as well as on various websites. Rachel Elizabeth has a Doctor of Psychology from Widener University.
Prescription 5-HTP for IBS
Doctor writing a prescription Photo Credit 4774344sean/iStock/Getty Images

Irritable bowel syndrome affects the gastrointestinal system. It is a disorder that leads to abdominal pain and cramps, changes in bowel movements, gas and bloating. Because its cause is unknown, there is a wide variety of treatment options. 5HTP is a chemical in the body that acts as a precursor to serotonin. Drugs that include 5HTP such as IBS serotonin modulators and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors use 5HTP to stimulate or inhibit serotonin production in the gastrointestinal system. The role of serotonin in the gastrointestinal system links to intestinal motility and sensitivity to pain.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder of the gastrointestinal system that results in a wide range of symptoms. Common symptoms include pain and cramps in the abdomen, gas, bloating, and difficulties with bowel movements. Individuals with IBS may either experience constipation, diarrhea, or alternate between the two. Symptoms may vary in intensity and are exacerbated by stress. It is not clear what causes IBS, but it is thought to be related to sensitivity in the intestinal muscles.

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Role of Serotonin in IBS

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in healthy functioning of the intestines and transports messages in the body. Approximately 95 percent of the body’s serotonin is in the gastrointestinal system. The serotonin in the intestines carries messages to various parts of the body and brain. In persons with IBS, there are lower levels of serotonin in the gastrointestinal system and less activity in the serotonin receptors. This links to some of the symptoms of IBS such as low movement and motility in the bowels. Individuals with IBS are also more sensitive to sensations such as pain in the bowels, leading them to experience pain with greater intensity.

Serotonin Modulators for IBS

According to Harvard Health Publications, prescription medications that affect serotonin can provide some benefit to individuals with IBS. Two different types of drugs can affect serotonin in IBS and help reduce the pain and bowel changes associated with the disorder. Serotonin antagonists block serotonin activity in the intestines. The first serotonin antagonist approved for IBS was Lotronex. It helped to reduce symptoms of diarrhea in women with IBS, predominant diarrhea type. However, due to serious side effects and complications, it was taken off the market for a short time. It is back on the market, but with very limited access and considerable restrictions. Serotonin agonists work in the opposite way, by enhancing serotonin activity in the intestines. Zelnorm is prescribed to women with predominant symptoms of constipation.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often used to treat depression; however, their use in persons with IBS has been suggested. They work to keep serotonin available in the intestines. As reported by the Cleveland Clinic, SSRIs may improve the intestinal symptoms of IBS as well any depressive or anxious symptoms. However, SSRIs are not recommended for persons with predominant diarrhea, as diarrhea is often a side effect of these drugs. Individuals should be started on a low dose. However, there are concerns that these medications could worsen the symptoms of IBS. Limited research is available for the efficacy and impact of SSRIs on IBS symptoms.

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