10 Tips for Combating Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Stomaching the Pain
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects somewhere between 15% – 20% of the U.S. population.1 We’ll never know exactly how many because most choose to live with their discomfort rather than seeking medical attention. For some, IBS is just too embarrassing to talk about.
The good news is there are numerous measures you can take on your own in an attempt to alleviate your symptoms.
Following Your Gut
One of the chief frustrations in treating IBS is that it’s proven difficult to diagnose. Stress and other psychological issues were originally cited, but medical researchers are now attempting to include specific food allergies as culprits. This additional focus stems from number of cases where symptoms have diminished when certain foods were removed from the diet.2,3,4,5 It appears individuals suffering from IBS have hypersensitive nerves sending an increased number of intestinal-related pain signals to the brain.6
With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of 10 tips to help you combat the pain:
- Keep a food journal. Record what you eat as well as the resulting symptoms. Patterns will emerge to help you identify certain trigger foods, including:
- Fatty foods that can cause exaggerated contractions in your colon and provoke abdominal cramps.
- Sugars found in fruit juices, dried fruits (fructose) and dietetic foods containing sorbitol or mannitol. These sugars can be difficult to digest and as a result, they can produce intestinal gas. One particular study shows how eliminating these sugars led to a reduction of symptoms in 40% of IBS patients.7
- Pasteurized milk products, casein, and whey contain lactose. This poses a problem if you’re lactose intolerant. Try raw milk instead. While it still contains lactose, it also contains lactase enzymes, which help digest lactose. You may also want to consider supplementing with a digestive enzyme containing lactase.
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, etc.) and beans may be good for you, but they can also make you gassy. Eat them in small quantities.
- Caffeine, alcohol, and sweets sometimes alter intestinal motility and cause diarrhea.
- Carbonated drinks and chewing gum have been known to contribute to intestinal bloating.
- Increase your soluble fiber. Fiber leads to satisfactory bathroom breaks. Make sure you’re getting 25-30 grams per day through foods like bran, bread, cereal, beans, fruit, and vegetables. (If you’re gluten intolerant, choose fiber sources that don’t contain gluten, such as flax seed) It may take a few weeks for your intestines to adjust, but your persistence will pay off with relief from diarrhea and constipation.
- Drink plenty of water. Drinking 64 ounces of water or decaffeinated beverages each day helps digestion tremendously. The specific amount isn’t as important as making it a habit to drink water whenever you’re thirsty.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Large meals may cause cramping and diarrhea. Try eating four or five small meals a day instead of three big ones.
- Chew your food. Speed-eating can cause increased gas and bloating due to the air swallowed while wolfing down food. Slow it down and chew everything thoroughly. Saliva enzymes are a critical first step in breaking down food. Put your fork down between bites if it helps you moderate yourself.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise improves regularity and relieves stress. Try to do something in this arena between three and five times a week. If you can’t get to the gym, find another way to stay active. A good walk after a meal helps keep gas from accumulating in your body.
- Learn to de-stress. Stress is known to increase the symptoms of IBS.8 Reducing stress can include anything from relaxation to behavior modification to psychotherapy. Studies have shown that hypnosis can dramatically relieve IBS symptoms for some people.9,10,11
- Increase your probiotics. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal system. They do battle with infection-causing bacteria. Research suggests that an imbalance of bacteria in the stomach provokes gastrointestinal distress and causes infections. Probiotics are naturally occurring in yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, tempeh, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other cultured and fermented foods. They’re also available in supplement form for easier, more controlled dosing. Find out more about how probiotics play a key role in healthy digestion.
- Take digestive enzymes. Enzymes are critical to healthy digestion, and different enzymes are needed at different points throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Unfortunately, the enzymes have already been cooked out of most processed and convenience foods. This forces your body to rely on its own supply. Consider adding a healthy dose of a digestive enzyme blend to treat your discomfort.
- Test betaine hydrochloride. Most gastrointestinal products (including antacids) seek to reduce the level of hydrochloric or stomach acid in an attempt to ease discomfort. This is exactly what you don’t want to do. Many people already suffer from too little stomach acid, which kills off their probiotic bacteria. Without these ‘good’ bacteria, pathogens multiply and infect your system. Antacids also raise homocysteine levels, contributing to inflammations associated with IBS and other digestive disorders. Betaine hydrochloride raises stomach acid levels to give probiotic bacteria a healthy place to thrive.
Gutting it Out
It’s frustrating to have to deal with something medical professionals haven’t been able to put their collective finger on. Fortunately, there are plenty of potential natural measures you can take that have proven to alleviate the irritability of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. You can start by paying attention to what you ingest and keeping track of what you’re experiencing. Stick with it and over time you should be able to discover a combination of solutions that work for you.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, National
Accessed March 2006
- King TS, Elia M, Hunter JO. “Abnormal colonic fermentation in irritable bowel syndrome.” The Lancet, 352:1187-9, 1998.
- Alun Jones V, McLaughlan P, Shorthouse M, et al. “Food intolerance: A major factor in the pathogenesis of irritable bowel syndrome.” The Lancet, ii:1115-7, 1982.
- Smith MA, Youngs GR, Finn R. “Food intolerance, atopy, and irritable bowel syndrome.” The Lancet, ii:1064 (letter), 1985.
- Parker TJ, Naylor SJ, Riordan AM, Hunter JO. “Management of patients with food intolerance in irritable bowel syndrome: the development and use of an exclusion diet.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 8:159-66, 1995.
- “Inside the Most Common GI Disorder,” Intelihealth.com
Accessed March 2006
- Fernandez-Banares F, Esteve-Pardo M, de Leon R, et al. “Sugar malabsorption in functional bowel disease: clinical implications.” American Journal of Gastroenterology, 88:2044-50, 1993.
- Dancey CP, Taghavi M, Fox RJ. “The relationship between daily stress and symptoms of irritable bowel: a time-series approach.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 44:537-45, 1998.
- Harvey RF. “Individual and group hypnotherapy in treatment of refractory irritable bowel syndrome.” The Lancet, i:424-6, 1989.
- Waxman D. “The irritable bowel: a pathological or a psychological syndrome?” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 81:718-20, 1988.
- Houghton LA, Heyman DJ, Whorwell PJ. “Symptomatology, quality of life and economic features of irritable bowel syndrome—the effect of hypnotherapy.” Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, 10:91-5, 1996.