What is the Holistic view
Second only to bad colds, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common reason that people miss work. It is also one of the primary reasons that people go to the doctor.
A syndrome is a group of characteristic symptoms, not a disease. The usual symptoms of that comprise IBS – constipation or diarrhoea, along with severe boating and wind – can be caused by a variety of ailments or conditions. Be sure of your diagnosis before you begin exploring your treatment options.
Is it allergy related?
One source estimates that up to the-thirds of people with IBS have one or more food allergies. Determining which foods cause allergies can be difficult and time-consuming. The most common offenders include dairy products and gluten rich grains such as wheat; however, your own IBS symptoms might be a reaction to almost anything. One of the easiest ways to help pinpoint your own possible culprits is to keep a detailed food diary, recording foods eaten and symptoms. If you notice that certain foods consistently make you feel bad, try eliminating them from your diet – one at a time – and see if your symptoms improve.
Bowel Supporting Supplements
One of the single most helpful supplements for IBS is Lactobacillus acidophilus. This beneficial bacterium has been shown to suppress the overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria, yeasts and parasites. L. acidophilus is commercially available as a powder or capsule. For best results, obtain a product that guarantees at least 2.5 billion live organisms per gram and take 1,000 to 4,000 milligrams per day.
Another very useful supplement is digestive enzymes, which assist in the thorough breakdown of foods. Several sources are available, including pancreatic extracts (from cows), papain (from papaya), bromelain (from pineapple stem) and cultured moulds (such as aspergillus species). The typical dosage is one to four capsules taken with meals, although dosage varies from one product to another. Follow the manufacturer’s direction. All of these enzymes are safe for extended periods of time.
In Asia rice-bran oil is used extensively for cooking and salad dressing but is also recognised for its medicinal properties. Doctors in Japan use it as a treatment of numerous medical conditions, including IBS and gastritis. It is rich in a substance called gamma-oryzanol, which has been shown to normalise acid production in the stomach and to decrease inflammation of the intestinal lining, thus soothing the entire intestinal tract. Rice-bran oil is available in gourmet and health food stores; it is also available as a dietary supplement. The typical dosage is 1-2 tablespoons of oil per day, mixed into foods; or one 100- to 200-milligram capsule of gamma-oryzanol three times per day with food.
Tips for a healthy bowel
Just as a garden needs constant weeding and pruning, your intestines need regular attention and maintenance. This is especially true for people with IBS. Part of that maintenance involves good eating habits, including the following strategies.
Cut the stress circuit
Try to make a mealtime as calm and stress-free as possible. Eating more slowly and taking time to chew food thoroughly is a great way to improve digestion.
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. Fix your attention on the air going in and out of your body. When upsetting or anxiety-producing thoughts intrude, focus completely on your breathing practice this every day. 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 diary, also jot down any stressful events in your day. Occasionally look back at your diary. If you see more IBS symptoms just before something like meetings, for instance, there’s probably a connection. Once you’ve identified the situations that seem to trigger IBS symptoms, look for ways – such as breathing techniques – to cope with them better.
Be Gentle on your intestines
Minimise fried foods, meats, oils, margarine, dairy foods and other fatty foods. They cause your colon to contract violently, which can lead to diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
Stay away from spicy foods. The capsaicin in hot peppers, for example, makes your large intestine go into spasms, which cause diarrhoea.
Cut down on caffeine avoid foods known to cause flatulence, including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, beans, carbonated beverages and broccoli. If you can’t avoid them entirely, consume these foods in small quantities only.
Don’t chew gum or eat sweets that contain artificial sweeteners include sorbital, xylitol and mannitol, which can have a laxative effect as they are very difficult to digest. When bacteria in your colon eventually break down these non-absorbing sugars, you get wind and diarrhoea.
Fit in more fibre
Get enough of this key component from fruits, vegetables and some grains. Fibre can help both constipation and diarrhoea by regulating peristalsis, the involuntary muscle contractions that move food.
Recent thinking on fibre and IBS has changed. It seems that both soluble and insoluble fibre are likely to benefit IBS patients with constipation, hard stool and urgency, but are unlikely to help those with abdominal distension, diarrhoea or flatulence and may make such symptoms worse. So consider the following advice if constipation is you main complaint.
Eat plenty of insoluble fibre, which is found in whole wheat and other whole grains, bran, beans and pulses. Insoluble fibre bulks up faecal matter, which speeds its passage through the intestines.
Soluble fibre also helps your intestines to work more efficiently, and has the added bonus of lowering cholesterol levels. Good sources are beans, porridge and some fruits, such as apples, strawberries and grapefruit.
An easy way to add soluble fibre to your diet is to take a daily dose of psyllium, the main ingredient in dietary fibre supplements like Metamucil. Psyllium is safe to take in the long term, unlike chemical laxatives.
If you haven’t had much fibre in your diet up till now, increase the amount you eat gradually. Adding too much fibre all at once can actually cause wind and bloating. Start with 8g of fibre a day – about what you’d find in two pears – and increase your intake by 3g to 4g a day until you’re up to 30g daily.
Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water each day to keep fibre moving smoothly through your system.
Graze, don’t gorge
Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Taking in too much food at once can over stimulate your digestive system
If you usually bolt down your meals, eat more slowly and pay more attention to chewing your food. Fast eaters often swallow too much air, which turns into bothersome wind.
Having diarrhoea can drain away the good bacteria that help to prevent harmful bacteria from growing out of control. When you’re suffering from IBS related diarrhoea eat plenty of bio-yoghurt containing active bacteria, such as acidophilus. Or take probiotics supplements. The usual dose is 2 capsules three times a day on an empty stomach.
Peppermint and ginger
Pain relieving, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, peppermint has a long history of use for intestinal problems including indigestion, cramping and bloating. It also fights yeast organisms. Mints are members of the group of herbs called carminatives, which relax the muscles of the lower oesophagus and allow the release of wind trapped in the stomach.
Although mint tea is useful for stomach upsets, peppermint essential oil is better for IBS. Several studies have confirmed that this oil acts directly on the smooth muscles lining the intestinal walls to decrease erratic contractions and alleviate spasms. For peppermint to reach the colon, however, it must be taken as a coated capsule, which shields the oil from the digestive enzymes of the stomach.
Typical dosage: 1-2 capsules containing 0.2 millilitres of the oil two or three times per day as needed; or dilute a few drops of the oil in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and rub directly on the site of discomfort such as the lower abdomen.
Caution: do not use peppermint oil internally if you have heart burn or reflux.
Every day, drink 1 to 2 cups of peppermint tea, which relaxes intestines, reduces spasms and relieves painful wind.
Drink soothing ginger tea. For the very freshest tea, grate ½ teaspoon of fresh ginger into a cup, then pour in hot water, let it steep for 10 minutes, strain and drink. Ginger tea bags are also available. Drink four to six cups a day.
The seed husks from this plant have a long history of use by herbalists and medical doctors alike for the treatment of constipation and recurrent diarrhoea. Psyllium is rich in fibres similar to those found in oat bran, flaxseed meal and guar gum. These fibres form a soft bulky material that gently regulates peristalsis.
Typical dosage: up to 1 tablespoon of seed husks or 2 teaspoons of powdered seed stirred into ¼ litre of water, once per day (drink 30 minutes to 1 hour after eating or taking other drugs). Don’t let the mixture set once mixed, the blend thickens quickly and becomes difficult to drink.
This popular, versatile herb acts as a sedative, relieves wind, calms intestinal spasms and fights inflammation. It soothes the gastrointestinal tract and helps fight both constipation and diarrhoea.
Typical dosage: 3 to 4 cups of tea per day (steep ½ to 1 teaspoon of dried flowers in ¼ litre a hot water for 10 minutes); or 10 to 40 drops of tincture three times per day; or up to six 300 or 400 milligram capsules per day in divided doses – all taken between meals.
Caution: avoid if you have heartburn or are allergic to other plants in the Aster family, which includes ragweed.
Whenever you possibly can take at least 30 minutes of non-competitive exercise such as walking. Exercise helps to relieve stress, releases natural painkilling endorphins and keeps your body – including your digestive system – working smoothly.