Do you suspect you may suffer from irritable bowel syndrome?
Have you been diagnosed with IBS and need more information about it?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the medical term used to describe a symptom picture of disordered bowel function. Symptoms can include cramping, abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, gas, erratic bowel action with alternating constipation and diarrhoea or a predominance of one or the other.
Other bowel conditions that may present with similar symptoms are Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, coeliac disease, parasitic infections and malabsorption problems. It’s important to rule these out before making a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.
Causes of an irritable bowel are non-specific, but in general arise from a reaction to stress, affecting the nervous system and its relationship with digestive function. People with a sensitive constitution are more likely to experience IBS than those with a more robust or resilient physiological make-up. An iridologist would notice signs in the iris of the eye such as concentric ‘nerve rings’ and a white, flared autonomic nerve wreath (ANW) in cases of IBS. In the iris the ANW represents the condition of the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic) and also delineates the area of stomach and intestines, separate from the rest of the body. This dual function of the ANW describes well the interactive relationship between the nervous and digestive systems in the body.
A priority in managing IBS symptoms is finding ways to manage the effects of stress on your body. This means not only reducing stressors where possible, but also regulating your reactions to the inevitable stress life brings. Use techniques that promote relaxation and self-awareness to decrease anxiety levels.
One of the most important considerations in treating irritable bowel syndrome is identifying and eliminating allergens. An allergic reaction to a food or toxin excites the nervous system and has an inhibiting effect on gut action and biochemistry. Correcting this is a vital part of restoring function.
During an acute phase of irritable bowel syndrome it’s best to eat relatively bland foods such as plain brown rice and steamed vegetables that provide fibre and won’t further irritate your bowel. Stay off meat, dairy and gluten grains and don’t eat any fried foods. Eating a variety of different vegetables provides lots of fibre and is non-irritating. Eat small meals more often rather than infrequent large helpings, to reduce the load on your digestive system. Once your IBS symptoms subside gradually experiment with common allergenic foods such as milk products, gluten grains and any others you suspect. Introduce these one at a time and observe the effect over the next few days.
Nature provides us with many good options for easing the symptoms of IBS. Raw grated apple, baked apple (no skin), or organic apple juice are effective options for soothing discomfort and improving the health of your digestive tract. Herbalists recommend blackberry tea, fruit or juice as a specific for relief of diarrhoea associated with IBS.
To help restore gut function and improve nutrient absorption, it’s necessary to balance your biochemistry – your mineral absorption at cellular level. Potassium phosphate (kali phos), magnesium phosphate (mag phos), sodium phosphate (nat phos) and potassium chloride (kali mur) in combination are the main tissue salts needed to treat an acute exacerbation of an irritable bowel. In addition silica and calcium fluoride salts will help tone the gut and restore normal action. Probiotics, digestive enzymes, B complex vitamins and omega 3 essential fatty acids may be needed in supplement form for a while to replenish depleted levels. Chlorophyll-rich superfoods such as chlorella, spirulina or green juices help cleanse and balance your system and add concentrated vital nutrients including antioxidant protection. As gut function improves nutrient absorption increases and healthy levels can be more easily maintained through the diet.
From the herbal realm mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is well suited to the irritable bowel syndrome profile. Mugwort eases digestive distress and pain while soothing the nerves and relieving both nervous and digestive tension. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita ) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) are two herbs with both carminative and tranquilising actions. They not only ease the distressing pain of abdominal cramping and gas, they also calm the nervous system. A daily tea made from one or a combination of these is ideal for people with IBS, gradually improving the health of the GI tract lining and at the same time soothing an overactive nervous system that may be the cause of stomach and bowel tension. Ginger and peppermint are two more aromatic herbs with specific actions on digestive function. They help reduce abdominal pain and gas, although too much ginger may irritate the sensitive tissues in cases of IBS, so use it moderately. To soothe and protect the mucous membranes of the digestive tract use either of the mucilganous herbs slippery elm bark (Ulmus fulva) or marshmallow root (Althea officinalis). These herbs coat the lining of the intestinal wall, not only nourishing the tissues but also providing an anti-inflammatory effect.
Let us know what foods or herbs have helped relieve your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
By Carolyn Simon ND, DipMedHerb
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