Natural Remedies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that many people struggle with. Statistics show that one in ten Americans display the symptoms of IBS, accounting for more than 2 million prescriptions and 35,000 hospitalizations each year. It is also the second highest cause of work absenteeism after the common cold.
Do You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
It's important to realize that IBS is completely different from another condition that sounds very similar, namely inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Inflammatory bowel disease is an autoimmune disease that can have very serious consequences. But irritable bowel syndrome, even though it can cause debilitating pain, is a functional bowel disorder. In other words, there are no significant physical conditions that contribute to the problem; hence it's a functional disease.
So how do you know if you might be suffering from IBS?
Common signs and symptoms include frequent:
- Abdominal discomfort and/or pain
- Spastic colon (spastic contractions of the colon)
How to Treat IBS Without Drugs
Fortunately, there are some simple, basic strategies you can use as an alternative to the drugs that are typically prescribed, such as antispasmodics and antidepressants. These drugs may help control the symptoms but do nothing to address the underlying cause.
Avoid all sources of gluten -- The first step for any patient that comes to my clinic with this problem is to go on a gluten free diet. Most people understand this means avoiding all forms of wheat, but you also need to be aware that there are many other hidden sources of gluten in your diet.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, but it's also found in other grains such as:
Typically, avoiding gluten for a week or two is enough to see significant improvement.
In addition to gluten, food allergies can also play a role so be sensitive to that and start a trial and error process to determine which ones you have.
Get checked for parasites -- Another comprehensive strategy, to make sure you're not struggling with a physical condition that could be simulating IBS, is to have your stool checked for parasites. Some parasites, such as giardia, can sometimes be a contributing factor that needs to be treated.
Tailor your diet to your personal biochemistry -- Naturally, you'll want to pay close attention to your diet. Ideally, you'll want to eat according to your nutritional type, as you have specific nutritional needs that are based on your personal biochemistry, metabolism, and genetic makeup.
Some people thrive on low-carbohydrate, high-protein and high-fat diets. A typical ratio for a Carb Type might be 40 percent protein and 30 percent each of fats and carbohydrates, but the amounts could easily shift to 50 percent fats and as little as 10 percent carbohydrates depending on individual genetic requirements.
Others require the converse: a high carb, low fat and low protein diet. (However, it's important to realize that there is a major difference between vegetable carbs and grain carbs, even though they're both referenced as "carbs." Grains convert to sugar, which is not something anyone needs in their diet in high amounts.) Others fall somewhere in between these Protein and Carbohydrate types and can afford to be less strict with their ratios of carbs, fats and proteins.
It's important to realize that if you don't eat a diet that is suitable for you, you're likely to suffer health challenges, and a spastic colon is one possibility.
Part of nutritional typing is also to pay attention to the quality of your food. You'll want to consume high quality, unprocessed food. Remember, 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food is for processed foods. When you choose foods like this you're bound to experience physical complications, and it's no big surprise that one of those complications could be in your gut.
Now, once you lower the amounts of sugar and processed foods in your diet, you're automatically creating a milieu that will support the growth of good bacteria and diminish growth of bad bacteria. But you can enhance that process further by eating fermented foods or taking a high quality probiotic.
Take your fiber - Taking additional fiber can also be very helpful to control IBS symptoms such as constipation and diarrhea. Fiber such as psyllium tends to be particularly helpful, and is my personal favorite. I use it nearly every day.
Psyllium is adaptogenic fiber, meaning if you're constipated it will soften your stool and help increase your bowel frequency, and if you have loose stools and frequent bowel movements, it will help with stool formation and decrease the frequency of bowel movements.
If you decide to use psyllium, make sure it is organic as nearly all the products out there are not, and the damage from the pesticide residue in most of the products far outweigh the benefit you would receive from the fiber itself. Metamucil is a classic non-organic psyllium.
Another good fiber is whole, organic flax seed. You can take a few table spoons of freshly ground flax seed per day. Another benefit of flax is that it's also a high quality source of plant-based omega-3 fats, particularly ALA, which nearly everyone needs on a regular basis.
Address emotional challenges - Last but certainly not least, I've found that many people with IBS have an unresolved emotional component that contributes to their physical problem. This is also one of the reasons why antidepressants are frequently prescribed. Meditation, prayer, and psychological techniques and tools like the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) are all strategies you can use to effectively address your emotional challenges.
If irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that you or someone in your family struggles with, following these tips and recommendations can help you, and your family, to take control of your health.