The irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects an estimated 15 percent of Americans—can cause uncomfortable changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea, chronic constipation, or a combination of both. People with IBS may also experience bloating, gas, and intense abdominal pain.
Living with IBS can be frustrating, especially if you rely on conventional measures to treat it. The condition can have a devastating impact on your happiness, your relationships, and even your career. In fact, IBS is one of the leading causes of absenteeism from the workplace costing American businesses billions of dollars annually.
My Top Five Natural Remedies for IBS
People with IBS are usually willing to try anything to improve their symptoms, and about 50 percent experiment with complementary and alternative approaches as a result. While not every natural therapy can treat IBS, research suggests that several can help ease symptoms —in some cases, more effectively and more safely than conventional medications. Here’s what I recommend to keep IBS at bay. Try one or more of these approaches and see what works for you:
Stress Reduction. Most people with IBS notice that their symptoms tend to worsen under stress. That’s not surprising: The brain and the gut’s nervous system are intertwined through a series of hormones and biochemicals, which means that negative thoughts can have profound effects on digestive function. Stress management techniques like meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and even hypnosis can all improve IBS. Try them one at a time and see what works best for you, then practice your favorite regularly.
Diet. Food is a notorious trigger of IBS symptoms. More than 60% of IBS patients report worsening of symptoms after meals, 28% of these within 15 minutes after eating and 93% within 3 hours-know your triggers! In most cases, it’s difficult to guess the specific culprits, so when my IBS patients tell me that food seems to set off their symptoms I put them on an elimination diet that removes the most common food allergens (such as corn, soy, dairy, and wheat).
There is abundant research on how gluten and dairy are common culprits for triggering IBS symptoms. Studies show that eliminating such allergens can be effective at easing these symptoms. If you believe food may be triggering your IBS symptoms, ask your doctor about following an elimination diet.
Is There a Better and More Effective Blueprint for IBS Food-based Therapy?
There is a hot new area of research which helps us understand the root causation of IBS symptoms in many individuals with IBS.
The intestinal flora (aka microbiome) is a superhighway for communication to the brain and the rest of the body. The gut is oftentimes called the 2nd brain and it produces 90% of the body’s serotonin-the biochemical that appears to drive gastrointestinal motility, mood and more. The microbiome is typically disordered in IBS. Gut bacteria are involved in serotonin production and may contribute to disease pathogenesis in a number of ways. Most IBS patients have small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) which results in the rapid fermentation of carbs after meals causing terrible gas and bloating along with cramping and irregular stools.
A diet low in fermentable foods (FODMAPs) improves IBS and shifts the gut microbiome. I place patients with SIBO on a low FODMAPs diet. Restriction of these highly fermentable foods improve IBS symptoms, helps rebalance the gut microbiome, and is a game-changer for many. I have also found that those who are frustrated with hard-to-lose-weight begin to finally lose the weight when starting on a gut microbiome balancing program. This discovery lead me to share my program in The Gut Balance Revolution.
Acupuncture. This ancient Asian technique has long been used to alleviate pain and relax the mind, both of which can benefit people with IBS. Many clinical trials have found that acupuncture can relieve IBS symptoms, but regular visits (once or twice a week) are necessary to see results. Fortunately, many insurance carriers now cover the much of the costs for acupuncture visits, which typically range from $35 to 65.
Peppermint Oil. This soothing herb appears to calm intestinal spasms, offering rapid relief for people with IBS. There are several studies showing that encapsulated peppermint oil was more effective than placebo and even better than conventional medications at improving symptoms of IBS. Look for enteric-coated peppermint oil and take 0.2 mL in capsule form two to three times per day with meals. Teas, unfortunately, are not as helpful.
Iberogast. This concoction of herbs includes lemon balm, chamomile, peppermint and others. Iberogast is made in Germany and has over 50 years of history in treating IBS. Many European physicians use Iberogast as frontline therapy for IBS, dyspepsia and other gut disorders. Iberogast is a liquid and you need only 20 drops in a beverage 2-3 times daily for symptom relief. A randomized study in Germany showed superiority over placebo for relief of global IBS symptoms and abdominal pain and in a separate study improvement of non-ulcer dyspepsia.
Managing IBS can be challenging. With some crucial lifestyle changes and a few key supplements, though, you can improve your symptoms and start on the path back to good gut health.
To your good health,
Dr. Gerry Mullin