Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS refers to a medical condition that affects the bowel. IBS is associated with a group of symptoms that include repeated episodes of pain or cramps in the abdomen, bloating, and changes in bowel movements, which may be diarrhea, constipation, or both. The classical feature of IBS is that these symptoms occur without any visible signs of damage or disease in the gut. Although the condition causes significant discomfort, it does not damage the bowel (intestines). IBS is a type of functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorder, which means there are no structural problems in the bowel. It occurs due to disturbances in the interaction between the bowel and the brain. This disordered gut-brain interaction can make the bowel more sensitive leading to the various symptoms of IBS, such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and constipation.
IBS is a common medical condition that affects about 12% of the people in the United States. It is about twice as common in women than in men and is most often reported in people younger than 45 years of age. The exact cause of IBS is not known. The condition does not have any specific test for it. Tests may be done to exclude other conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and certain cancers. Most cases of IBS are effectively managed with diet, stress management, probiotics, and symptomatic medicine.
How can I treat IBS naturally?
There is no cure for IBS. You must consult your doctor to get proper management for the condition and know what lifestyle changes will work best for you. The management of IBS involves several lifestyle changes that include:
Some of the foods containing FODMAPs are:
- Certain fruits and their juices including apples, mango, apricots, blackberries, cherries, nectarines, pears, plums, and watermelon
- Vegetables, such as beans, cabbage, cauliflower, artichokes, asparagus, garlic and garlic salts, lentils, mushrooms, onions, and sugar snap or snow peas
- Dairy products, such as milk, soft cheeses, yogurt, custard, and ice cream
- Wheat and rye products
- Foods containing high-fructose corn syrup
- Food products including candy and gum with sweeteners (sugar alcohols) including Sorbitol, Mannitol, Xylitol, and Maltitol
Depending upon your predominant symptoms, you may need to avoid certain foods.
Foods triggering constipation in people with IBS:
- Food products, such as cereals and bread, made with refined (not whole) grains
- Processed foods, such as chips and cookies
- Carbonated drinks
- A high protein diets
- Dairy products, particularly cheese
Foods triggering diarrhea in people with IBS:
- Fried and fatty foods
- A diet with too much fiber especially the insoluble fiber present in the skin of fruits and vegetables
- Fructose (a type of sugar)
- Sorbitol (a type of sugar alcohol used as a sweetener)
- Carbonated drinks
- Large or heavy meals
- Dairy products
- Foods containing gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) such as most cereal, grains, pasta, and many processed foods
Various strategies to manage stress may help ease the symptoms. These include:
Only soluble fiber is found to help in IBS. Excess insoluble fiber may cause cramping and bloating.
Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to manage your symptoms. They include:
- Fiber supplements and laxatives to ease constipation
- Loperamide to control diarrhea
- Probiotics (live microorganisms for health benefits)
Although not scientifically backed with evidence, several herbal remedies, such as St. John's wort, flaxseed oil, fish oil, aloe vera juice, and chamomile tea, are being used to manage IBS. You must consult your doctor before trying any of these.
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Harvard Health Publishing. Using Alternative and Complementary Treatments to Manage IBS. July 2015. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/using-alternative-and-complementary-treatments-to-manage-ibs
Harvard Health Publishing. Soothing Solutions for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. February 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/soothing-solutions-for-irritable-bowel-syndrome