- Do you have pain or discomfort on at least 3 days per month in last 3 months?
- Is the pain or discomfort relieved by passing a bowel motion?
- At around the time the pain or discomfort started, did you also have a change in the frequency of bowel motions (more or less often)?
- At around the time the pain or discomfort started, did you also have a change in the consistency of bowel motions (looser or firmer)?
If you answered YES to number 1, and to at least two from number 2-4, then you quite possibly have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Who Gets Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Women are affected three times more likely to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome than men. The condition commonly begins during the teenage and early adulthood years.
What Causes IBS?
IBS is now recognized to be exacerbated by a number of stimuli. For some people it is foods such as wheat, dairy products (although often yoghurt is OK), citrus fruit, tea, coffee and alcohol. An imbalance in the normal intestinal flora (SIBO) caused by a previous round of antibiotics or a viral, bacterial or parasitic infection can lead to inflammation and spasm of IBS. Anxiety and stress reactions seem to be strongly associated.
During symptomatic episodes the digestive tract contracts excessively, creating abnormal bowel function. Pain is often crampy, caused by strong contractions of the large intestine, coupled with a heightened sensitivity of pain receptor nerves in the small intestine.
Breath testing can determine the role of excessive bacteria in the small intestine (SIBO) or the role of undigested sugars.
What can I do to Help my Irritable Bowel Symptoms?
Firstly, follow some simple dietary guidelines:
- Avoid eating large meals, as too much pressure against the intestinal wall can cause it to contract, causing pain and spasm.
- Eat more frequent meals, of smaller portions. This will assist proper digestion and gentle movement through the digestive tract.
- Remove common problem foods from the diet, such as gluten
- Gluten is the protein component of several grains but is especially high in wheat grains. It gives bread the sticky, doughy consistency. Many people find gluten difficult to digest; it may be because humans didn’t evolve to eat grains. Wheat gluten is frequently implicated in IBS, and some may have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity – a recently recognised condition that affects many people.
- It is also well known that gluten can damage or irritate the intestinal lining.
- For the sufferer of Irritable Bowel Syndrome it may make sense to eliminate gluten from the diet completely, but it is very important to realise that if symptoms subside quickly, you should commence eating gluten-containing foods again and if the same symptoms return, to get screened for Coeliac disease. You must be consuming normal amounts of gluten for the test to be useful.
- A high fibre diet is a mainstay of management, but it is not recommended to increase insoluble fibre, such as wheatbran, while continuing to eat foods that aggravate the condition – this can actually make symptoms worse, due to faster motility and more painful spasm and diarrhoea.
- Soluble fibre in the diet acts as a gentle bulking laxative by pulling water towards it. This can both bulk the loose stool in diarrhoea and soften it if the tendency is to constipation. A bonus side-effect of increasing soluble fibre in the diet is that it also helps with reducing both raised blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
- Apples and pears are good – they can be stewed with the skin on. Add psyllium powder (a seed husk) to water or juice, or sprinkle it on food. If you find that these particular foods are NOT good, we recommend making an appointment to explore special dietary options or investigations.
- Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) bark powder is a nutritive herb that tones and soothes the irritated intestines and acts as a gentle bulking laxative. Add 2 teaspoons of slippery elm powder in a cup of hot rice milk or water, sweeten with a little honey if you like and add a dash of cinnamon. A pinch of clove powder has a mild pain-killing action.
- Partially hydrolysed guar gum (PHGG). SunFiber® is certified FODMAP friendly, and can be especially valuable, helping to normalise gut function, improve intestinal health, and support a healthy microbiome.
- Acacia gum fibre, is another useful prebiotic fibre, also well tolerated, and has been shown to slow fermentation and reduce gas and bloating.
- Larch arabinogalactans fibre is another prebiotic polysaccharide powder that is able to increase short-chain fatty acid production (primarily butyrate) via fermentation by intestinal microbiota.
- Aloe vera juice is healing and tonic to the digestive tract. It reduces inflammation and stimulates cell growth, which supports healing of the gut lining. A good quality Aloe vera juice contains useful amounts of mucilage, which is a soluble fibre. The juice should be a murky colour, with the small fibres of mucilage visible when a glass of juice is held up to the light. Lesser quality Aloe vera juices are almost as clear as water (which they mostly are) and are not to be judged by a flash label or advertising.
- Avoid sugar and refined foods. Fermentation of high carbohydrate foods in the intestines can also contribute to irritation and intestinal spasm.Here is another reason to avoid bread not to mentions pastries and baking which have a high glycaemic index, raising sugars in the intestines and blood stream. These foods, along with sweets, are also acid forming and they hinder the body’s nutrient absorption. A high sugar diet has been shown to increase inflammation, slow the transit time of food through the intestines and alter stool composition.
- Try Probiotics. Natural yoghurt and naturally fermented foods (such as sauerkraut, tempeh etc) help to restore the beneficial bacteria of the intestines. Your practitioner may recommend a specific probiotic powder or capsule with good bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus or other specific strains, depending on your symptoms.
- Some people with IBS feel their symptoms are worse if they take probiotics. If this happens to you, please make an appointment.
What other Natural Therapies can help IBS?
In addition to following the dietary advice of your practitioner, certain herbs may be helpful.
Herbs that are effective in soothing inflammation and pain in the gastrointestinal tract may be prescribed. It is also important to stimulate the digestive juices of the stomach, liver and gallbladder to support optimal digestion.
Bitter herbs such as milk thistle (Silybum marianum), globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus), schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), gentian (Gentiana lutea) and hops (Humulus lupulus) may be used for this.
Medical herbalists also value the following herbs for IBS:
- Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis)
- Liquorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
- Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)as a tea has been safely used for thousands of years for its healing properties. It is a valued herb for treating the digestive tract.
- Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is another, the flower petals contain number of substances that make if a great tissue healer, and it works on the immune and lymphatic systems to help bring relief from IBS symptoms.
These can be components of a herbal formula or can also be taken as teas. There are many other herbs that might be used – your health care practitioner will select those that are most suitable for you based on your symptoms and other factors.
Reduce Stress and Worry
Working from a mind-body-medicine perspective is important. We have a range of effective options practitioners can utilise to support you – read more here. Herbs can also be used to nourish and relax the nervous system and reduce stress and anxiousness. Your herbalist may choose ones that have a specific benefit to the gut as well, such as Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), which is well known for soothing the gut and as a nervous system relaxant and tonic.
Dietary changes, supplements and herbal remedies as prescribed by your health consultant are important to help soothe and heal the gut. Generally, however, food is NOT the problem. Food may well be simply aggravating the problem!
We can help you!
Call us on 09 846 5566