NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It’s the embarrassing condition nobody wants to talk about, even though it affects more than 15 million Americans.

We’re talking about IBS, short for Irritable Bowel Syndrome — not to be confused with Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which includes Crohn’s and Colitis.

IBS causes painful cramping, gas, diarrhea, or constipation depending on which type you have.

Now, researchers have found a way to use peppermint oil for relief.

You may have seen the TV commercials and thought the actors are really hamming it up, but talk to an actual IBS patient and you’ll hear the commercial is no exaggeration.

“I thought it was crazy because how could gas be that painful? I remember going to the hospital several times and the first time I thought there was something in my stomach, like I was bleeding on the inside or something because of the pain,” patient Marwa Safa said. “The pain gets really, really intense.”

Safa has suffered with IBS since she was a young teenager. It took years to get the right diagnosis, even though her symptoms were classic for IBS — especially the most common trigger.

“If I’m stressed I can feel it,” Safa said. “Literally I can feel it in my belly. I blow up like a balloon and it just hurts like crazy and it’s just like I can’t move. It’s awful.”

Gastroenterologist Dr. Kayane Hanna-Hindy says it’s not clear what causes IBS. Probiotics, fiber, and avoiding certain foods help, as do some prescription drugs.

But lately, she’s recommending an age-old natural anti-spasmodic — peppermint oil.

“It prevents the absorption of calcium into the small intestine into the smooth muscle  so subsequently by preventing that calcium absorption you get relaxation of the muscles,” she said.

But the trick has been to get the peppermint oil where it’s needed, in the small intestine. Now, several studies have found that an over the counter product called IBGuard does just that.

It microencapsulates highly purified peppermint oil so it’s released where patients need it.

“They were able to go about their daily activities because those spasming, those cramps dramatically improved,” Dr. Hanna-Hindy said.

“I don’t feel as stressed,” Safa said. “I start to feel it and no worry, like aw man my day is ruined. I just go take a pill and I know I’m good. There’s no worry anymore.”

IBGard seems to help either type of IBS, with constipation or diarrhea, because it’s main effect is easing the pain and cramping that is a hallmark of IBS.

While the capsule is over the counter and a natural product, it’s always a good idea to talk to a doctor about your condition.

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