Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Are you troubled by abdominal bloating, discomfort or pain? Or by gas, alternating constipation and diarrhea, backache, fatigue, and possibly depression or anxiety? If so, you may have IBS.
IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder reported to general practitioners. Estimates of its frequency run as high as 15% of the population. Unfortunately there is no way to definitively diagnose irritable bowel, so it is therefore a diagnosis of exclusion. Conditions that must first be ruled out include infection by parasites, yeast, or pathogenic bacteria, diverticular disease, inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohns disease), and lactose intolerance. These conditions and others can produce symptoms that mimic those of IBS.
The good news is that naturopathic medicine has much to offer people with IBS.
Food allergy and sensitivity are a common cause of IBS, so making some diet changes can often be very helpful. Some foods that have been linked to IBS are dairy products, wheat products, beans, caffeine, and foods containing fructose or sorbitol, as well as many others. You can get considerable fructose from fruit juices, fruit drinks, and dried fruit. Sorbitol is found in dietetic foods.
IBS problems are not limited to these foods, however. I have a protocol to help you find out which foods may be contributing to IBS. Once you remove these foods from your diet, your health will improve.
Another common cause of IBS is maldigestion. Inadequate secretion of hydrochloric acid by the stomach or digestive enzymes by the pancreas doesn't allow your food to be digested properly. This can lead to gas, bloating, loose stools, and the other symptoms of IBS when intestinal bacteria digest the food for you. It can also lead to overgrowth of unfriendly intestinal bacteria and the development of food allergies.
You also may need to be evaluated for infection or overgrowth of pathogenic bacterial in your GI tract. The American Journal of Gastroenterology recently reported that 78% of people with IBS have excessive levels of pathogenic bacteria in their lower intestines. I have some very effective natural therapies for restoring the proper microbial balance in your gut.
Addressing the psychological aspects of this condition requires a very individualized approach. One thing that most people with IBS do have in common is that during stressful situations the contractions or spasms in their colon increase. Stress reduction techniques such as physical exercise, daily walking, yoga, meditation, or deep abdominal breathing can therefore be helpful.
The primary herbal medicine that has been studied in the treatment of IBS is peppermint oil. Peppermint is an effective inhibitor of colon contractions or spasm and also relieves gas. Peppermint oil should only be taken in enteric-coated capsules. These capsules aren’t digested until they pass through the stomach and reach the small intestine. This prevents the peppermint oil from contacting the stomach where it can cause acid reflux and heartburn. Other herbal medicines that have historically been used for IBS include chamomile, rosemary, valerian, ginger, and lemon balm.
Most conditions, including IBS, are multifactorial in nature, having a variety of factors playing a role in the disease process. The most effective treatment approach for irritable bowel syndrome therefore employs a combination of all of the above. Many people with IBS are able to experience significant relief from this condition by following this approach. Before pursuing any treatment program for IBS, please consult with a naturopathic physician.