Reimagined and Revamped. Fighting the spread of nonsense often feels like a Sisyphean task. However, the joy is in making the information available, not the hope of conversion.

TechBit: Testing of natural remedies

I have had stomach problems my whole life. Two or three times a year my stomach has a revolution after eating dinner or lunch. Since I was a kid I have been taking Donnatal for it when I get one of these flare ups. This drug is a mixture of belladonna and Phenobarbital. Its a tiny little pill with very little barbiturate in it.  But it seems to help. Of course what really helps is going to the bathroom (there I go again, another post about poop).

My sister, who suffers from the same stomach problems, but she tell me it is much worse than mine, has tried all brands of woo before settling on her current one. She’s seen an ancient chinese medicine doctor, acupuncturist and other things for years. Her most recent foray into curing the problem (known medically as IBS, which to be honest, I think it more like a catch all for a number of problems, but it does feel good to know that there is a name for it, meaning other people have this) has been eating Aloe juice.

I think the Mayo clinic has adequately explained the reason there are so many “alternative” methods to treat IBS:

No one knows exactly what causes irritable bowel syndrome.

The thing to remember, just because doctors don’t know what causes IBS doesn't mean that witch doctors do. It also doesnt mean that there hasn’t been loads of studies and tests done to try to wean out the causes and beneficial treatments. There are over 5200  papers studying IBS listed at PubMed. Its not like its a disorder that is being ignored.

Anyway, I told my sister that my drug had natural stuff in it too. Donnatal has an extract of Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade) in it. Funny thing is though, I went to go look up the efficacy of belladonna for IBS, no good evidence. But then I looked at a list of the actual studies:

  1. Balzarini A, Felisi E, Martini A, et al. Efficacy of homeopathic treatment of skin reactions during radiotherapy for breast cancer: a randomised, double-blind clinical trial. Br Homeopath J 2000;89(1):8-12.
  2. Walach H, Koster H, Hennig T, et al. The effects of homeopathic belladonna 30CH in healthy volunteers -- a randomized, double-blind experiment. J Psychosom Res 2001;50(3):155-160.
  3. Whitmarsh TE, Coleston-Shields DM, Steiner TJ. Double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study of homoeopathic prophylaxis of migraine. Cephalalgia 1997;17(5):600-604.


Ummm… if you are testing the efficacy of an herb with a homeopathic preparation….have you tested the herb at all? To be fair, I pulled out only the ones that were tested in a homeopathic fashion. Other references used Donnatol preparations.

So I wanted to see if there are studies with Donnatol in the way that I expect them to be, placebo controlled and double blind. There are studies, I found 4 at pub med, but I can not read them nor their conclusions. That is quite annoying. Can someone give me a hand?

  • Anisotropine methylbromide for relief of gastrointestinal spasm: double-blind crossover comparison study with belladonna alkaloids and phenobarbital. JC King
  • The treatment of functional and emotional symptoms in patients with gastrointestinal disorders. JW Fisher
  • The GI Cocktail is no more effective than plain liquid antacid: a randomized, double blind clinical trial.Berman DA, Porter RS, Graber M. (actually there is a summary for this one, donnatal as an emergency elixer is not any more useful than anti-acids)
  • Clinical and x-ray evaluation of donnatal and donnatal extentabs in functional disturbances of the gastrointestinal tract. L marks
  • The evaluation of Bellergal Tablets compared to librium and placebo in the treatment of symptoms of anxiety tension states associated with functional gastrointestinal disorders.Samet CM.


I hate to sound cranky and all, but the results of drug testing of any drug, should be made freely available to everyone.

Anyway, I may have found my woo. I’ve been relying on Donnatal for years. It may be pure placebo. What will I do about it? Probably nothing. I’ll stop taking them if they no longer work, I don’t need extra barbituates  in my blood.

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