If you don’t struggle with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (commonly referred to as IBS), you probably know someone who does. This condition afflicts many and, despite the number of medications that can be taken for IBS, did you also know that there are plenty of natural strategies that can be used instead?
IBS is a complicated chronic condition that affects more than 30 million people in the United States. According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), IBS (also called spastic colon) can be tricky to diagnose. The cause is unknown and many of the symptoms are commonly associated with other ailments such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), an autoimmune disorder.
For IBS suffers, the most common of all symptoms include bloating, cramping, gas and altered bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation or both alternating in frequency and consistency). With such commonly encountered symptoms, this makes IBS difficult to diagnose. However, when symptoms are accompanied by mucus in the stool, a feeling of incomplete elimination, or if having a bowel movement relieves abdominal pain, there’s a higher chance you’re suffering from a gastrointestinal disorder, like IBS.
Conventional treatments typically use antispasmodics, anti-diarrhea agents, laxatives and antidepressants to control symptoms. While many will find relief with these treatments, there are often unwanted side effects and they keep the body dependent on them rather than addressing the root cause. IBS is characterized as a functional gastrointestinal disorder. Therefore, there is no structural damage or biochemical abnormalities to the large intestines. This means that diet and lifestyle play a large role in how your body is responding to certain stimuli.
Start With The Diet
The first step is to rule out diet-related causes, such as lactose intolerance. Try eliminating dairy from your diet for a couple of weeks and monitor your bowel habits to see if the symptoms go away. The same can be done with foods containing sugar and wheat. Consider an elimination diet and start by taking out sugar, then caffeine (coffee, black tea, maté, colas, cocoa, chocolate), alcohol, wheat, nuts and nut butters, raw foods, soy products, chips, iced drinks and sorbitol, often found in mints and candies.
Once you’ve modified your diet for at least 2 weeks, you should notice some relief in your symptoms if diet was the cause. If you want to take additional steps to pin-point which foods reacts in your body, gradually reintroduce these foods back into your diet and pay attention to what your body is telling you. For IBS-D (diarrhea-predominant), consider limiting or eliminating the amount of tablets or capsules in medicines or supplements which contain lactose or sucrose.
To show the significance of diet associated with IBS, Alan R. Gaby, MD cited a study conducted on patients with IBS and food allergies in Nutritional Medicine,
“Twenty-four patients with IBS consumed a hypoallergenic diet for 3 weeks, followed by individual food challenges. Fourteen patients (59%) had a consistent exacerbation of symptoms upon reintroduction of specific foods. After 6 month on a diet that excluded the offending foods, 10 patients were symptom-free and the other 4 were improved.
Look To Alternative Remedies
In addition to changing dietary habits, other herbal and essential oil treatments have shown beneficial effects for gastrointestinal symptoms. Peppermint or peppermint oil (enteric-coated), chamomile, licorice tea or deglycyrrhizinated (DGL) licorice, aloe vera with magnesium aspartate (800 mg daily) can help smooth muscle and calm the GI tract. Cinnamon, ginger, fennel, dill, and chamomile are carminative herbs and help to relieve abdominal pain by moving congestion for those who are experiencing diarrhea-related IBS. Ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon also help to relieve bloating. Adding in fibers such as psyllium husk and freshly ground whole flax seeds is another option. Psyllium is an adaptogenic fiber, softening the stool if constipated while forming harder stool if suffering from diarrhea.
Another consideration is to take your time when eating and thoroughly chew your food. Taking a quality multi-strain probiotic may benefit some patients since they are essential for maintaining an optimal ratio of good-to-bad bacteria in the gut and also digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. Also, check for parasites. Some parasites, such as Giardia could be a contributing factor.
Address Emotional Stress
When tackling IBS, it’s not only important to look at what you’re eating, but also to pay attention to how you’re living. Where are you spending your time? Do you give yourself enough space to recover from any emotional stress you might have encountered? The mind has an amazing ability to influence the body’s function. Anger, fear, tension, stress, obsession and worry can upset the functioning of a healthy digestive tract. The benefits of a calm and peaceful lifestyle are healing to the body. In fact, our emotions have a direct effect on our colon. The colon has reflexology points for every other part of the body. It has also been proven that unpleasant emotions hinder peristalsis (successive waves of involuntary contraction) of the colon. This proves that the negative or fearful thoughts we have can alter the functioning of our gut.
Many of our neurotransmitters are made in the gut. The brain sends and receives nerve impulses in the walls along the tube of our gut. Serotonin, a mood, emotion, sleep and appetite-modulating neurotransmitter, is predominantly formed in the gut, regulating digestion and peristalsis. When our gastrointestinal tract is “irritable” that means “the nerve endings in the bowel wall, which control muscle function and affect sensation of the gut, are unusually sensitive” as cited on the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. This explains why doctors prescribe selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) for IBS. However, studies show that patients with IBS experience the most improvement with dietary modifications combined with one or more other holistic therapeutic remedies.
For more information about the types of foods and supplements recommended for people suffering with IBS, check out Low-FODMOP Diet book by Sue Shepherd, PhD and Peter Gibson, MD. You can also reach out to the wellness staff at Peoples on natural remedies for relieving symptoms associated with IBS. Remember that you don’t have to suffer alone. You have options!
by Tava Buckner, Wellness Specialist
- Gaby, Alan R.,M.D. Nutritional Medicine. Concord, NH: Fritz Perlberg, 2011. Print.
- Jensen, B. Dr. Jensen’s Guide To Better Bowel Care: A Complete Program For Tissue Cleansing Through Bowel Management. Garden City Park, NY, 1999. Print
- Mercola, J. (2009, May 9). Natural Remedies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Retrieved March 22, 2015
- Facts About IBS. (2015, February 23). Retrieved March 20, 2015. Tierra, L. (2013). Healing With The Herbs of Life (1st ed., Vol. 1). Crossing Press.