As I suffer from IBS and gut dysbiosis that give me quite a few troublesome gastrointestinal symptoms a close relative recently recommended I try a supplement containing an extract from the plaintain banana plant. Plaintains are large bananas found in the tropics which have to be cooked before being eating.
I have to admit I had never even heard of this supplement but my relative has had quite severe digestive upsets for most of her life and now swears by it, saying it's the most effective treatment she's ever found. So, before trying it for myself I thought I'd use this week's blog to explore this banana plant extract and the rationale for its use in digestive disorders.
The extract is made from the non-fruiting stem of the plaintain banana plant and if you look at medical studies it might be referred to by its botanical name, Musa paradisiaca, or as dried powder of banana pulp (DRBP).
It seems that banana plant extract has been used traditionally in various medical systems such as ayurveda and has now also been well studied by scientists. It has been found to be high in certain types of fibre as well as a flavonoid called leucocyanidin which is thought to account for many of its beneficial effects.
According to researchers banana plant extract:
- Increases mucus production
- Strengthens the mucosal barrier (wall of the gut)
- Increases mucosal thickness
- Increases cell proliferation
- Acts as an antioxidant
- Increases production of anti-inflammatory chemicals in the body
- Regulates peristalsis
- Is antimicrobial
- Acts as a prebiotic
Clearly then banana plant extract has many effects that are likely to benefit many digestive disorders from simple indigestion or bloating to more serious diseases. Indeed research shows this to be the case.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There is no doubt that the effects of banana plant extract could be beneficial in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and a small number of studies have shown this. First of all IBS is a functional bowel disorder which means that although no obvious cause is present the bowel doesn't function properly. Patients are usually constipated or have diarrhoea (or both). The ability of banana plant extract to promote peristalsis therefore may help to restore normal bowel function. Peristalsis is the wave-like motion of the intestinal muscles which moves food and waste through the intestines. IBS patients also commonly have an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria (dysbiosis) in their intestines. Being antimicrobial banana plant extract may also help here by killing the bad bacteria and promoting the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria by acting as a prebiotic (food for the probiotic bacteria). Finally IBS patients often have some degree of inflammation and leaky/gut malabsorption problems so antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and mucosal healing properties of banana plant extract can only help.
A thorough review of the available research into the use of banana plant extract in peptic ulcers published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology (2002) found it to be highly effective. The extract was effective against ulcers induced by a variety of factors including aspirin, stress, histamine and ulcer-inducing drugs such as prednisolone and phenylbutazone in a mixture of animal and human trials. The success was put down to the mucus promoting effect of the extract (specifically leucocyanidin) as well as its ability to promote healing and strengthening of the stomach lining.
As well as stomach ulcers the banana plant extract has also been found to be a highly useful treatment for ulcers of the duodenum. One placebo controlled trial found that after 12 weeks of treatment 70% of ulcers had healed compared to only 16% in patients given a placebo.
Banana plant extract has also been found to be helpful in dyspepsia not caused by an ulcer. Dyspepsia may cause symptoms such as indigestion, bloating, pain and nausea. One study found that after 8 weeks of treatment 75% of patients had significant relief from symptoms compared to only 20% given a placebo.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
A group of serious diseases of the gastrointestinal tract the term inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) most commonly refers to Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. In 2004 researchers from the University of Liverpool anounced that banana plant extract was helpful in many patients with Crohn's disease. They suggested that the type of fibre found in the extract prevented bacteria associated with the disease being attracted to the intestinal lining and triggering inflammatory episodes. It is thought that the prebiotic, antioxidant and other anti-inflammatory effects of the extract are also likely to contribute to its success in the condition.
Considering I have spent many years looking into remedies for digestive disorders and having never come across banana plant extract before I was amazed at the long list of benefits it offers and the impressive research results in a widfe variety of digestive diseases. I will certainly now be giving it a try myself and it would be great to hear from any of you who have already tried it!
About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.