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Relieving constipation by shining light where the Sun don't shine

Relieving constipation by shin...
Shining light onto nerves in the gut could help relieve chronic constipation
Shining light onto nerves in the gut could help relieve chronic constipation
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Shining light onto nerves in the gut could help relieve chronic constipation
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Shining light onto nerves in the gut could help relieve chronic constipation

The field of optogenetics is all about using light to stimulate cells in the body, and so far it's been used to modify pain responses in mice, reset the biological clock, and restore regular heartbeats as a gentle alternative to defibrillation. Now, researchers from Flinders University have used the technique to shine a light where the Sun don't shine, stimulating nerves in the gut to relieve chronic constipation.

Laxatives are the most common treatment for constipation, but they're not really safe for long-term use. Other drugs may be prescribed for chronic cases, but these aren't always effective and can have other side effects. More creative solutions include a capsule containing a tiny motor, which starts vibrating once it reaches the intestine to stimulate the muscles into contracting and keeping bowel movements moving along.

The Flinders research uses pulses of light to achieve a similar outcome. The gastrointestinal tract is controlled by a network of neurons known as the enteric nervous system, and past research into optogenetics has shown that neurons react particularly well to light. The idea was that light would stimulate these nerves, causing the muscles to contract and evacuate the bowel.

To let there be light in that darkest of places, the researchers implanted micro-LEDs into the gut walls of mice. When wirelessly turned on, these LEDs emitted blue light in the gut, activating the excitatory nerves and successfully emptying the bowel.

In other optogenetics studies, scientists first need to engineer animals with cells that respond more readily to light, but the Flinders team says the new study shows this treatment can work on regular cells. That said, implanting LEDs in the intestines doesn't sound like an attractive idea, but there might eventually be easier ways for a light source to get to your gut – maybe as something similar to the tiny pill-like video cameras used to image the insides of patients.

"The ability to selectively stimulate transit along the gut in live mammals using light to stimulate specific regions of the gut could avoid the use of non-specific prescription drugs which can induce a long list of unpleasant side effects," says Nick Spencer, lead investigator on the study. "The most exciting aspect is that this optogenetic technology using light has already has been shown to work in targeting cells in other organs without breeding genetically modified animals, so this signals this approach could be applied one day to humans."

The research was published in the journal Gastroenterology.

Source: Flinders University

8 comments
michael_dowling
Just add more roughage to your diet,or if that is not palatable,mix up some Metamucil first thing in the morning.
jerryd
Adding more roughage is what gave me constipation!! Since I starting eating healthy food it has become much worse. It is the final step, coming out, that is the big problem. Best to handle it is pushing on the skin in front of the anus to break up the blob which them will come out in pieces easily. Don't try to force a too big stool, break it up as above or an enema, etc or you'll hurt yourself and get bad hemorrhoids, tear the intestine, etc. You don't want those. Another is drink whiskey, etc 80+ proof shot straight on an empty stomach which will slow down the biota that make the stools so hard for a while. Only works if you don't drink much as the biota gets adapted to it. Don't drive for a while.
ljaques
NEVER going to borrow another person's LED flashlight again. For constipation, make a habit to drink lots more water, add fiber to your diet (chia seeds, veggies, nuts, oatmeal, avos, beans, whole grains), and move more. Couch potatoes get plugged. I mix up a quart of almond milk with a couple tablespoons of chia seeds and a couple tablespoons of chocolate whey protein. A few chugs a couple times a day will make it last for 2 days and I stay regular, even if I eat poorly for a few days. "CAUTION: Do not swallow your LED penlights." should have been a caveat included with this feed.
EZ
Magnesium pills also work very good. One or 2 at night and voila!
pmshah
One need not use any kind of medication at all. Upon waking up drink a couple of glasses of lukewarm water. Then after say half an hour or so do an exercise called "navali" in Yogasana exercises. Your problem will be permanently solved within a few months.
Nik
I have this Xmas tree with a beautiful blue light on top............
MD
Metamucil with embedded LED's.. Powered by?? hope not a lithium battery... (just kidding, if pacemakers can be why not your morning LED dose..)
Saigvre
Neat little optogenetics (with no genetic to-do beyond living necessary) recap capsule! Here it is not challenging mice who went to a week-long BBQ & Bourbons festival, or agey guts, but it also doesn't insist on blown-glass high voltage real filament light sources. LEDs clean up fine...if not, just take a ride on one of the motorbike specials New Atlas runs stories on, and surely your solidus will be multisected. Flinders U!