Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome is an extremely common condition, and chances are that even if you dont suffer from it, you probably know someone who does. Despite the fact that this condition is so common, most of us dont know much about it.
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is a chronic disorder that afflicts the large intestine. This condition causes food to pass too slowly or quickly through the large intestines, resulting in painful and distressing symptoms like abdominal cramping, gas, bloating and diarrhea or constipation. The condition is also referred to as functional bowel syndrome or irritable colon and spastic bowel or colon. Despite the impaired digestive function, there is no permanent damage caused to the large intestine. The symptoms however, can be so severe, so as to alter the quality of your life. The condition can be managed quite effectively at home though, with natural remedies for IBS. The most effective home remedies for IBS typically involve the use of dietary and lifestyle modifications. Diet therapy is in fact the most important aspect of treatment.
Irritable bowel syndrome is not a disease, but is a condition, and it cannot be passed on to others. It is not contagious or cancerous. The condition is extremely common, with up to 20% of all adults in the United States suffering from it. The condition is not gender specific, but is more likely to develop in women. In most sufferers, the condition usually surfaces before the age of 35.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome can be rather severe, but they generally vary among different individuals, as IBS affects each person differently. Abdominal discomfort and pain seem to be universal to all sufferers of IBS, but there are plenty of remedies for IBS symptoms that can help cope with them. Some common irritable bowel syndrome symptoms include the following:
- Abdominal cramping and pain that usually subsides after a bowel movement
- Alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation
- Changes in both the consistency and frequency of stools
- A buildup of abdominal gas and bloating, often accompanied by flatulence
- The passage of mucus from the rectum is not uncommon
- You may also notice some amount of abdominal distension
If you have observed these symptoms for a period as long as up to six months, there is a good chance that you may suffer from IBS. These symptoms usually surface after meals, but they are not present throughout. Many patients experience bouts of diarrhea and constipation alternatively, but most will have just one or the other.
The pattern in which the symptoms develop and are present can also vary greatly as some individuals find that the symptoms may worsen and decrease sporadically, over a period of weeks or a month. In others, the symptoms are present most of the time and even begin to worsen with the passage of time. The symptoms are often aggravated by stress, travelling or with changes to your daily routine. The symptoms also seem to increase in women during menstruation.
Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
The exact causes of irritable bowel syndrome are unknown, but there are some theories and we are aware of the triggers that can cause the symptoms to surface. The intestinal walls are lined with muscles that contract and relax rhythmically as they facilitate the passage of food from the stomach to the rectum. In individuals who suffer from IBS these muscle contractions are stronger and last for a longer period, causing food to be passed through rapidly. This impairs digestion and results in gas, bloating and diarrhea. In some individuals however, the opposite is true. With slower contractions, there is a slowdown in food passage, which results in hardening and drying of stools.
IBS could develop because of problems or abnormalities in the intestinal muscles, making them more sensitive to movement or stretching. There are no structural abnormalities in the intestine however. In some cases, individuals who have never experienced any serious digestive disorders may find themselves afflicted with IBS after a bout of intestinal infection. This is referred to as post-infectious IBS.
There are many possible triggers that can cause IBS symptoms to surface. Certain foods like dairy and milk products, alcohol, chocolates, carbonated beverages and some vegetables may cause the symptoms to surface, but you need to actually monitor your diet to find out just which food affects you. Stress is another influencing factor that can cause the symptoms to worsen significantly. Stress does not actually cause the symptoms, but it will worsen them. Hormonal changes are also believed to contribute to the symptoms, which is probably why women tend to experience stronger symptoms during menstruation.
Remedies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Home remedies for irritable bowel syndrome are quite popular because of the chronic nature of the condition. Most people today are cautious about the use of pharmaceutical products and medications on a regular basis, and tend to seek natural alternatives for common ailments and chronic conditions. Irritable bowel syndrome natural remedies are not meant to be a substitute for conventional treatment however. Make sure that you visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and medical attention. Home remedies can help control the condition however, and reduce your reliance on drugs and also minimize the side effects of various medications. No matter how promising an IBS remedy may appear, there are no miracle cures for IBS. Diet and lifestyle changes need to be of a permanent nature.
Some popular remedies and alternative treatments for irritable bowel syndrome include the following:
- Herbal remedies are quite popular for various ailments and peppermint may offer some benefits for IBS patients. Peppermint has antispasmodic properties that could help to relax the intestinal muscles, but most studies so far have been inconclusive. Before you try using peppermint however, make sure you consult your doctor because of possible drug interactions. Keep in mind that peppermint can also cause heartburn.
- Acupuncture is another alternative therapy that has gained ground in recent decades. Acupuncture is believed to help relax the muscles, thereby improving bowel function. Investigations into the effects of acupuncture on IBS are so far inconclusive.
Diet for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
There is no specific diet for irritable bowel syndrome, but dietary changes can help significantly. There is no universal IBS diet, because the influence of different foods varies from one individual to the other. There are some broad based guidelines that could help however.
- Foods and beverages that stimulate the intestines could worsen your condition, so it may be advisable to avoid consuming colas, caffeine and tea.
- Foods like wheat, barley, rye, dairy products, and chocolates are often found to trigger IBS, so you should be cautious.
- Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflowers and cabbage, and pulses can pose a problem for individuals who suffer from bloating and gas.
- It is advisable to avoid consumption of alcohol.
- Increase your intake of dietary fiber, by consuming fiber rich fruits. Avoid fiber supplements unless prescribed to you by your doctor.
- Apart from the foods you consume, your meal timings and serving size is also important. Try to maintain regular habits and instead of large servings, eat frequent but small meals.
- Avoid consuming any laxatives for constipation, as this could create a dependency, which will only worsen the problem.
Because of the vast differences in food allergies, triggers and reactions among different individuals, it would be best for you to maintain a food diary. This will help to keep track of what you eat and the symptoms or reactions if any. It will help to establish a pattern, so that you can gradually eliminate foods that trigger symptoms.
Suggestion for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
While dietary modifications should constitute the main approach to self care and treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, there are other lifestyle changes that can also help to reduce the symptoms.
Your levels of physical fitness may not have a direct bearing on IBS, but staying fit and exercising does help improve bowel function. More importantly, exercising will help to reduce stress. Try not to over exercise. You dont need to join a gym or indulge in a rigorous workout. Simple light exercises like Pilates, yoga or aerobics would suffice. You could even take up some physical activity like walking, cycling or swimming.
Smoking is a bad habit that is detrimental to your health in general and can therefore aggravate the symptoms of IBS. Try to quit smoking and get healthy.
Stress management can help reduce the frequency or severity of IBS episodes considerably. Learn to take a break from work and make time to relax. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation can help considerably. In this regard, yoga would be particularly beneficial as it offers you a combination of physical exercise, and meditative and breathing exercises.
If you suffer from any pre-existing condition, make it a point to check with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (also called “spastic colon”) can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. But there are natural ways to get relief
Since there’s no sure cure for IBS, people develop their own ways of living with the enemy. The key: Don’t become discouraged. Dietary changes and stress-relief tactics should provide a significant dose of relief. For more insurance, combine them with one of the alternative therapies noted below. Once you have a system for controlling your symptoms, IBS will surely put less of a cramp in your style.
Manage your stress
• Since stress is one of the factors known to trigger an IBS flare-up, learn to short-circuit it with meditation, yoga, or a simple breathing exercise like this one. Sit comfortably, or lie down. Turn your attention to the air going in and out of your body. When upsetting or anxiety-producing thoughts intrude, focus completely on your breathing. Practice this daily. Then, whenever you feel yourself becoming tense and anxious, use it to calm yourself.
• Keep a diary of your IBS symptoms, noting what types of problems you have and how severe they are. In this journal, also jot down any stressful events you face in your day. Occasionally look back at your diary. If you see more IBS symptoms just before airplane flights or meetings with your boss, for instance, there may be a connection. Once you’ve detected situations that seem to trigger IBS symptoms, look for ways—like using the breathing technique above—to cope with them better.
Go easy on your intestines
• Minimize fried foods, meats, oils, margarine, dairy foods, and other fatty foods. They cause your colon to contract violently, which can lead to diarrhea and abdominal pain.
• Stay away from spicy foods. The capsaicin in hot peppers, for example, makes your large intestine go into spasms, which can cause diarrhea.
• Cut down on caffeine. It can worsen IBS by irritating your intestines.
• Avoid foods known to cause flatulence, including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
• Don’t chew gum or candy that contains artificial sweeteners. Among the common sweeteners in these products are sorbitol and mannitol, which can have a laxative effect. They’re very difficult to digest. When bacteria in your colon eventually break down these “nonabsorbed sugars,” you get gas and diarrhea.
• Stop smoking. Nicotine contributes to IBS flare-ups. Also, when you smoke, you swallow air, and people with IBS are very sensitive to having air in their gut.
Fit in more fibre
• Soluble fibre soaks up liquid in your intestines, helping to prevent diarrhea. Good sources are beans, oatmeal, and some fruits, such as apples, strawberries and grapefruit.
• If you can’t seem to get enough soluble fibre in your diet, take a daily supplement of psyllium, the main ingredient in dietary fibre supplements. Unlike chemical laxatives, psyllium is safe to take long-term. Follow the label for dosage directions.
• If constipation is your main complaint, fill up on insoluble fibre, found in whole wheat, bran, other whole grains, salad greens, and other foods. Insoluble fiber bulks up stool, which speeds its passage through the intestines.
• If you haven’t had much fiber in your diet, increase the amount you eat gradually. Adding too much fibre all at once can actually give you gas and bloating. Start with 8 g of fibre daily—about what you’d find in two pears—and increase by 3 or 4 g each day until you’re up to 30 g daily.
• Drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day to keep fiber moving smoothly through your system.
Graze, don’t gorge
• Eat smaller meals more frequently rather than a couple of large meals each day. Taking in too much food at once can overstimulate your digestive system.
• If you usually bolt down your meals, go more slowly and pay more attention to chewing your food. Fast eaters often swallow too much air, which turns into bothersome intestinal gas.
• Having diarrhea can drain away good bacteria that help prevent harmful bacteria from growing out of control. When you’re having IBS-related diarrhea, eat plenty of yogurt containing active bacteria, such as acidophilus. Or take supplements of acidophilus. The usual daily dosage is one pill containing 1 to 2 billion live organisms. Take it on an empty stomach.
• Every day, drink a cup or two of peppermint tea, which relaxes your intestines, reduces spasms, and relieves gas pain. Make sure to buy the kind that contains real peppermint, rather than black tea with peppermint flavoring. Alternatively, you can take enteric-coated peppermint-oil capsules. The coating ensures that the oil reaches the intestine instead of breaking down in the stomach. Take one or two capsules three times a day, between meals.
• Drink ginger tea. Ginger soothes all manner of digestive problems, including IBS. For the freshest tea, grate a half-teaspoon of ginger into a cup, then pour in hot water, let it steep for 10 minutes, strain out the ginger, and drink the tea. Ginger tea bags are also available. Drink four to six cups a day.
Get some exercise
• Whenever possible, get at least 30 minutes of noncompetitive exercise such as walking. Exercise helps relieve stress, releases natural painkilling endorphins, and keeps your body—including your digestive system—working smoothly.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for irritable bowel syndrome.
Yogurt that contains ‘live cultures’ is a popular remedy for IBS-related diarrhea. Live cultures are friendly bacteria that provide a layer of protection in the intestines and help generate lactic acid to flush out bacterial toxins from the body.
- You can eat yogurt as it is or make a smoothie. Have some several times a day until you notice improvement in your condition.
- Alternatively, mix one-half teaspoon of psyllium husks or Isabgol (available at drug stores) and one cup of yogurt. Eat it one hour after your lunch and dinner. Repeat daily until there is improvement.
Flaxseed is a good source of dietary fiber required for the swift and comprehensive passage of waste products. Plus, flaxseed is a good supplier of omega-3 essential fatty acids that are known to support the immune and digestive systems. Both constipation and diarrhea can be treated with flaxseed.
- Take one tablespoon of freshly ground flaxseed with water, once daily.
- Alternatively, add one teaspoon of flaxseed to one cup of boiling water. Steep for five to 10 minutes and then drink this herbal tea before going to bed. Drink daily to keep your stomach clean and free from gas.
- You can also mix one tablespoon of flaxseed in a glass of water and allow it to rest for two to three hours. Drink the water daily before going to bed to promote smooth bowel movements.
Peppermint can reduce IBS symptoms like cramping, bloating and diarrhea. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that fiber, antispasmodics and peppermint oil are all effective in the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Peppermint contains menthol oil, which has an antispasmodic effect on the smooth muscles of the digestive tract. This helps relieve bloating, gas pain and intestinal spasms. Plus, peppermint can help food pass through the stomach easily.
- Add two or three drops of peppermint oil to one-fourth cup of warm water. Drink it three or four times a day. Continue until there is improvement in your condition.
- Also, you can add one teaspoon of dried peppermint to a cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes. Drink this tea two or three times a day.
Note: If taken in excess amounts, peppermint may cause nausea, loss of appetite, heart problems and nervous system disorders.
4. Fennel Seeds
Fennel seeds can relieve the intestinal spasms and bloating commonly associated with IBS. Plus, fennel seeds play a key role in eliminating fats from the digestive system, thus inhibiting the over-production of mucus in the intestine that contributes to IBS.
- Add one-half or one teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds to one cup of boiling water. Steep it for 10 minutes, strain and enjoy your herbal tea. You can have this herbal tea two or three times daily to prevent as well as reduce IBS symptoms.
- Alternatively, you can take one-half teaspoon of dry roasted fennel seeds powder twice daily with warm water.
Ginger can reduce gas and bloating, hence it is often recommended for treating IBS. Also, ginger can reduce inflammation in the intestines and relax the intestinal muscles.
- Add one-half teaspoon of freshly grated ginger to a cup of hot water. Let it steep for 10 minutes, strain out the ginger, add some honey and then drink the tea. You can drink ginger tea two or three times a day to ease cramps and abdominal pain.
- Alternatively, you can grate a small piece of ginger and add one teaspoon of honey to it. Eat this mixture before having your lunch and dinner to get rid of diarrhea as well as improve your digestive process.
Note: Those suffering from high blood pressure should not use ginger remedies for IBS.
6. Cabbage Juice
Cabbage juice is another very effective remedy for IBS sufferers who experience constipation.
Raw cabbage juice has sulfur and chlorine that help to deeply cleanse the mucus membranes of the stomach and intestinal tract. The mild laxative effect of cabbage juice makes bowel movements softer and easier to pass as well as help keep the body hydrated.
- Wash a fresh cabbage and cut it into small pieces.
- Put the pieces through a juicer or blender to make fresh cabbage juice.
- Drink one-half glass of this juice at a time, three to four times in a day.
- You must drink cabbage juice as soon as you start having constipation.
7. Oat Bran
Eating oat bran on a daily basis will give your body the much-needed fiber and help reduce the symptoms of IBS to a great extent. When you eat oat bran, the stools become soft and get passed down painlessly and easily. Plus, it has antioxidants, protein, calcium, iron, thiamin, phosphorus, riboflavin, magnesium, and zinc.
- Add one tablespoon of oat bran to your breakfast cereal daily.
- Also, you can mix one part oat bran with two parts water and cook it for a few minutes. Then eat it like oatmeal.
- You can also add one tablespoon of oat bran to yogurt, a smoothie or a salad.
Note: When you first start eating oat bran you may have gas and bloating, but these symptoms will decrease as the body adjusts to it.
The antispasmodic property as well as the high amount of tannins present in chamomile can provide great relief from IBS symptoms like diarrhea. Also, chamomile can reduce inflammation in the intestines and relieve abdominal spasms.
- Put two to three teaspoons of dried chamomile flowers in a cup of boiling water.
- Let it steep for about 15 minutes.
- Strain it and add a little lemon juice.
- Drink this herbal tea about three times a day.
Fresh, ripe bananas are a nutritious fruit that also help relieve IBS symptoms. You can eat bananas to treat diarrhea because the soluble fiber in bananas help absorb liquid in the intestines. Also, the potassium presents in bananas helps relieve bloating and gas.
- Eat one or two ripe bananas daily to maintain a healthy digestive system and prevent IBS.
- If you are having diarrhea, mash one ripe banana and mix in one teaspoon of tamarind pulp and a pinch of salt. Eat it twice daily until the diarrhea stops.
Carrots are a good source of pectin that can help prevent IBS symptoms as well as treat diarrhea and constipation.
- Put a few fresh carrots in a juicer to extract the juice. Add a few drops of lemon juice and a little bit of honey to the juice. Drink it several times a day until you notice improvement.
- You can also blend soft, cooked carrots in a blender with a little water to make puree. Add a little salt and eat one-half cup of carrot puree several times a day.
Note: Avoid eating raw carrots if it causes stomach pain.