Natural Strategies to Quiet Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The standard medication treatment for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome can have side effects as distressing as IBS itself! Natural alternatives may be the solution.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the digestive tract affecting ten to fifteen percent of people in the U.S. It causes uncomfortable symptoms which can include abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, distension, and flatulence. IBS is a complicated disease, and many potential causes are being explored and identified by researchers. Standard treatments for IBS include antidepressants, antibiotics, laxatives, and psychological therapy.

IBS Symptoms and Triggers

The most common side effects of some of the meds used to treat IBS symptoms are diarrhea, stomach pain, gas, stomach distention, headache, fatigue, diarrhea, frequent bowel movements, fecal incontinence, flatulence, decreased appetite and more. With side effects like these, some may wish to carefully consider alternative strategies.

IBS-sufferers often find that food can trigger flare ups. About two-thirds of individuals with IBS have at least one food intolerance. Foods rich in carbohydrates, fatty foods, coffee, alcohol, histamine-rich foods (fermented foods, banana, chocolate, tomatoes, and beans, to name a few) and hot spices have all been reported to cause symptoms.

IBS Elimination Diets and Supplements

Elimination diets which remove suspect foods from the diet for a period of weeks may be helpful in identifying trigger foods. Low carbohydrate, low fermentable carbohydrate, low fructose, wheat free, gluten free, and lactose free diets have all been tried with IBS patients with some success.

Peppermint oil has been show to normalize GI function and to decrease pain and inflammation.

Some studies have shown improvements in IBS symptoms with the use of dietary supplements. Supplements were used individually, which is the safest way to see if a supplement is effective for symptoms.

  • Melatonin supplementation (3mg/day) has been shown to improve symptoms including abdominal pain.
  • Artichoke Leaf extract was shown to reduce symptoms after treatment with 320-640 mg/day.
  • Peppermint oil has been shown to normalize GI function and to decrease pain and inflammation. Studies have often used one to two 0.2mL capsules, two to three times daily before or with meals.
  • Psyllium fiber is a soluble fiber that can be purchased as a powder or in capsule form. It has been shown to improve overall symptoms of IBS in some studies. Ten to 30 grams (one to three tablespoons) of psyllium seed husk in two to three divided doses daily is recommended. To ease GI adjustment, increase fiber slowly over a period of several days. Psyllium must be taken with a large glass of water or other liquid as the fiber swells up and can cause choking.
  • Probiotics, in particular, Bifidobacterium infantis, were rated highly by an expert panel for its ability to improve overall IBS symptoms.

One of the most frustrating things about this condition is that it affects individuals so differently. What works for one person may exacerbate symptoms in another. This is why it is a good idea to try one change at a time, for two to four weeks, to see if there is a noticeable benefit or worsening of symptoms before discontinuing and moving on to another supplement or diet.

Working with a trusted heath professional who is familiar with these alternative treatments is recommended.

For more information:
Irritable bowel syndrome: contemporary nutrition management strategies.
MedlinePlus, the National Institutes of Health’s Web
Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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Allan Reetz is the Co-op's Director of Public and Government Affairs. Contact Allan at areetz at coopfoodstore dot com.