Effective, natural relief for irritable bowel syndrome

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Effective, natural relief for irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), sometimes called “spastic colon,” can be embarrassing and uncomfortable.  Up to 45 million people in the US know all too well the disabling symptoms it can cause disrupting their lives.  While discouraging to deal with, dietary changes and stress-relief tactics can provide a significant dose of relief.   

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an intestinal disorder causing pain in the belly, gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and constipation.  Up to 1 in 5 Americans have chronic IBS with symptoms lasting for years or a lifetime.

The cause of IBS is unknown and the symptoms can be quite variable from person to person. There can be a variety of factors playing a role in this unrelenting intestinal disorder. 

In order to understand IBS, it’s important to understand the workings of the intestinal tract. The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract and relax in a coordinated rhythm as they move food from the stomach through your intestinal tract to your rectum.  In IBS, the contractions may be stronger and last longer than normal, causing symptoms of pain, gas, bloating, and diarrhea.  Or if the intestinal contractions are weak, this slows down the passage of food and can lead to hard, dry stools.

Your diet and food choices can be a major player in helping reduce and relive IBS symptoms.  Here are 12 strategies that may help to minimize symptoms:

1.     Include probiotics

Consuming food sources containing probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut or sourdough bread may help symptoms.  Probiotic supplements are also worth a try – try Align, Culturelle, and VSL#3.

2.     Include fiber

One of the best ways to relive constipation is to add more fiber.  Consuming more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans can be a start to meeting your daily fiber needs of at least 25 grams a day.  Ask your healthcare provider for advice on fiber supplements or try Psyllium husk as it has good efficacy for IBS.

3.     Stay active

Regular physically activity from walking to yoga to bicycling can reduce symptoms of IBS and promote regularity.

4.     Follow a low FODMAP diet

Between 70-75% of people with IBS who follow a low FODMAP diet experience symptom relief. FODMAP (fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols) are carbohydrates (sugars) found in foods.  Not all carbohydrates are considered FODMAPs.  Follow the guidance of a registered dietitian in using a FODMAP diet to see if you truly FODMAP sensitive. 

5.     Treat diarrhea

Diarrhea may also be helped following a low FODMAP diet.  If diarrhea is severe, your physician may prescribe either an antibiotic (rifaximin) or bile acid sequestrants in case the diarrhea is due to a bacterial infection or over-production of bile.

6.     Treat nausea with ginger tea

Find relief from nausea by drinking tea made with fresh ginger root which aids stomach emptying.

7.     For pain, try peppermint oil

If pain is a problem, try enteric-coated peppermint oil (one capsule contains 0.2 ml) to help relax the smooth muscle in the intestine dulling the pain.  Any reflux sufferers need to be careful using this as peppermint oil may worsen that issue.

8.      Treat bloating

For bloating try the clinically proven herbal medicine called Iberogast which helps movement of the intestinal tract. 

9.     Eat at regular times

Avoid skipping meals and try to eat at about the same time each day.  This helps regulate your bowel movements.

10.  Drink plenty of liquids

Drink sufficient fluids each day (at least 6 to 8 cups a day) preferably water.  Alcohol and beverages containing caffeine stimulate your intestines and can make diarrhea worse, and carbonated beverages cause gas.

11.  Take care with dairy products

People with lactose intolerance should substitute yogurt for milk.  Or use an enzyme product to help break down lactose.  Consuming smaller amounts of milk or combining them with other foods also may help.  Make sure you are obtaining enough protein, calcium, and B vitamins from other food sources.

12.  Avoid problem foods

Oftentimes, people figure out which foods trigger IBS symptoms and simply avoid those foods.  These may include alcohol, chocolate, caffeinated beverages such as coffee and sodas, medications that contain caffeine, dairy products, and sugar-free sweeteners such as sorbitol and mannitol.

13.  Manage stress

Stress can trigger an IBS flare-up for some people.  To short-circuit this situation, learn to relax and relieve stress with meditation, yoga, or a simple breathing exercise like this: sit comfortably or lie down.  Pay attention to your breathing, drawing air in and then blowing it out.  When upsetting or anxiety-producing thoughts intrude, focus completely on your breathing.  Practice this daily using it to calm yourself whenever you feel tense and anxious. 

14.  Peppermint oil

Peppermint oil has long been thought to be helpful in reducing the symptoms of IBS mainly by having a helpful effect on gut motility.  The principal component of peppermint oil is menthol, which appears to relax smooth muscle such as that found throughout the colon. This effect on the smooth muscle is thought to act to reduce gut spasms.

A number of research studies have been conducted to assess whether or not peppermint oil is better than a placebo in reducing IBS symptoms. In general, there has been some indication that peppermint oil is as effective as prescription antispasmodics, leading the American College of Gastroenterology to recommend peppermint oil as a front-line treatment.