I am seeing patients with irritable bowel syndrome on a very regular basis. It is now so common it appears it is being taken less seriously, just one of those things that people have to live with!
A syndrome is a condition that has numerous symptoms. With IBS symptoms can range from mild to severe, acute to chronic, constant or periodic abdominal pain, spasms, bloating, bad wind and typically, very distressing bowel function. IBS will often involve constipation, more often it’s severe and urgent diarrohea and sometimes it is a combination of the two. For many, this condition is life-limiting, meaning, it prevents people conducting their life as normal. It is often a gradual process, but over time sufferers refuse invitations out, make the shortest trips out possible to do essential tasks and dread having to go out when they don’t know where the nearest toilet is.
Doctors will give a diagnosis but rarely offer a solution. It is often a really tricky one to treat, but that doesn’t make this condition untreatable.
The first step is to improve your eating behaviours. Key to this is to chew, chew and then chew some more. Focus on what you’re eating, don’t eat while distracted, on the computer, reading etc. and put your knife and fork down between each mouthful so you eat slowly, these practical changes can really help. Better eating habits will enhance your overall digestive abilities and limit irritation of the gut.
If you are having a bad bout, be very mindful of what is aggravating the symptoms. Keeping a food diary can be really helpful as it may become evident that certain foods are triggers. The most common triggers are wheat (gluten), dairy and soy. However, it may be that eliminating these foods makes no difference at all, it really is trial and error. For many sufferers, too much fibre can be a real problem, especially from raw veg / salad. Eliminate anything raw for a while and have small portions of veg and see if this helps.
Try some fermented foods. Use a high quality live natural yogurt for beneficial bacteria; Kefir – a different form of fermented dairy, far higher in helpful bacteria than yogurt, really easy to make at home and extremely beneficial for gut problems and sauerkraut (non-pasteurised) is a really beneficial food for improving the environment within the intestine. So too, raw apple cider vinegar. See previous post on how to use medicinally.
A lot of current data are supporting the elimination of gluten to allow the gut to heal, inflammation to calm and the digestive system to recover. Gluten is the protein in wheat, rye and barley, so for many people it requires a big change in diet, but this can make a huge difference as gluten is a very irritating and inflammatory substance.
Taking a multi-strain probiotic is also a big step in the right direction. Probiotics provide billions of live bacteria to support the environment within the intestine and specifically in the colon (large intesitne). Probiotics are consistently proving to be very helpful in calming diarrhoea and easing constipation. However, many probiotics contain a prebiotic in the form of FOS or inulin. These are insoluble fibres which can be really aggravating for IBS, so look at labels, ask questions and get a high potency product with no prebiotic.
Aloe vera can help calm inflammation; L-Glutamine (an amino acid) is a super-supplement for healing the lining of the intestine to help remedy IBS for the long-term; omega 3 fatty acids (fish/krill oil) are so strongly anti-inflammatory they can help as a general aid to healing and easing pain and spasming.
Ultimately, most people with IBS find that their symptoms flare up or worsen when stressed and tired. Managing the bigger issue of what is triggering your stress and learning how better to manage your stress (better sleep, enjoyable exercise, breathing and meditative techniques, making changes etc.) can have a lasting impact.
I know I have only skimmed the surface of this subject, but if you are a sufferer, begin with these recommendations as they may be enough to stop your IBS getting worse and may even support your body to mend and heal. Look out for a more indepth part 2 to come.