How to Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome

How to Manage Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Image via Julien Jeanneau

Poop can be an embarrassing topic to discuss. Yet so many individuals suffer from constipation and other digestive issues. According to the Mayo Clinic, as many as one in five American adults has irritable bowel syndrome (I.B.S.). Millions of people suffer from the symptoms which include cramping, spasms, altered bowel function and irritation of the intestinal tract. In some people it is mild, while others have chronic symptoms that can be disabling.

I.B.S. is a ‘functional disorder’ which means that there is no physical evidence of disease such as ulcers or inflammation. It is also a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning if a practitioner cannot determine a cause for the symptoms (i.e. Crohn’s disease or colitis), a diagnosis of I.B.S. is likely to be made. However, other conditions should be ruled out before a diagnosis of I.B.S is made. These include: parasites, candida, infectious diarrhea, and lactose intolerance.

The symptoms of I.B.S. can vary from person to person and may include:

  • Abdominal pain or spasms
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Bowel urgency
  • Incontinence
  • Abdominal pain relieved by defecation
  • Mucus in stool
  • Bloating
  • The sensation of the bowel not emptying completely
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Although I.B.S. is a serious problem, it is not life-threatening and can be managed by diet and lifestyle changes along with natural supplementation.

Here are some steps you can take to cope with I.B.S:

  • Rule out possible underlying causes and treat them if they exist (i.e. candida, parasites).
  • Determine “trigger” foods and avoid them (fats, dairy, insoluble fiber and red meat tend to be big triggers).
  • Make soluble fiber foods the largest part of your meals and snacks and always eat them first. Soluble fiber foods include: oatmeal, rice and rice cereals, pasta and noodles, barley, quinoa, soy, veggies such as potatoes, yams/sweet potatoes, beets, squash, pumpkins, avocados and fruits like bananas, mangoes, papaya and applesauce etc. Experiment with recipes for variety.
  • Be careful about the intake of insoluble fiber (such as bran and fiber in raw fruits and vegetables). High fiber foods should not be eaten alone or on an empty stomach as they can trigger I.B.S. symptoms. The best option is to peel, skin, chop, mash, cook and purée fruits and vegetables to blend into smoothies, soups, sauces or stews. Make sure you also finely chop nuts, fresh herbs, and dried fruits.
  • Eat 5-6 smaller meals per day, rather than 2-3 large meals. This is easier on the digestive system.
  • Chew your food slowly and thoroughly into small digestible pieces. You can also take digestive enzymes to help break down your food.
  • Drink plenty of purified water but limit the amount of water or other fluids you drink with your meals, as this can inhibit digestion. Be careful with ice-cold liquids as they can make your stomach muscles contract, triggering an attack.
  • Replenish good bacteria in your intestinal tract with probiotics.
  • To ease the symptoms of cramping and spasms, use anti-spasmodic herbs such as ginger root, goldenseal and turmeric. These can be found at your local health food store. Peppermint tea is also antispasmodic and relaxing so drinking it can be very helpful in the reduction of spasms.
  • Exercise regularly to keep things moving through the digestive tract and to keep your whole body healthy.
  • Repair and rebuild the intestinal tract with amino acids such as L-Glutamine and N-Acetyl D-Glucosamine. There are products you can get at your local health food store that are specifically designed to help heal and repair the intestinal tract.
  • Avoid eating foods you are unsure of. If you want to test something, try it in very small amounts to determine whether you will have a reaction.

By following the preventative steps above, I.B.S. sufferers can significantly regain their quality of life.

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Caroline Farquhar is Naturally Savvy’s Digestive Care Specialist. Caroline is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Energy Medicine Practitioner, and Reiki Practitioner.