If you have been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or suspect you are suffering from it—don’t despair. There are ways to handle it and sometimes even overcome it. We’ve listed below some of the most common and most effective ways.
What Is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is something no one has quite been able to explain. However, as the name suggests, it is a condition where someone’s bowels are more irritable, which often leads to abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and gas. In rare cases, it may also lead to an urge to pee more often, problems controlling your bowels (incontinence), tiredness/lack of energy, passing mucus, and nausea.
It is unknown what exactly brings on the condition, but it is believed that some of the contributing factors may be: (1)(2)(3)
- a sensitive colon
- decreased levels of serotonin in the gut, leading to constipation
- increased levels of serotonin in the gut, leading to diarrhea
- hormonal changes
- stress and infection (those who suffer from IBS may have their immune system respond to stress and infection differently, causing IBS symptoms)
- people with IBS may perceive contractions in the gut more strongly than others
- food passing through your gut more quickly or too slowly (depending on muscle contractions in the gut), leading to inflammation of the intestines
- people with IBS sometimes have more viral and bacterial infections in the intestines
- changes of bacteria (microflora) in the gut (i.e., healthy bacteria)
If you have rectal bleeding, diarrhea at night, a temperature, vomiting, constant or severe abdominal pain, suffer weight loss, have an iron deficiency, or have problems swallowing, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible, as there can be other underlying causes. In general, if you suffer abdominal pain and changes in bowel movements, you should always see a doctor to rule out any other potential illnesses. Even if you believe in natural/alternative treatment, it’s important to first have a proper diagnosis and know your options.
There are several things you can do to help overcome—or at the very least manage—IBS. Below we have listed eight.
1. Remove Foods You Are Sensitive To
While food allergies don’t cause IBS, food sensitivities may. It’s been reported that wheat, dairy products, citrus fruits, beans, cabbage, milk, and carbonated drinks could trigger IBS. (1)
To find out if a food is causing your IBS, you can keep a symptoms journal where you note what you ate and the symptoms (though nothing says that symptoms start immediately after eating something). Or try abstaining from certain foods for a month or more, and see if your symptoms improve.
2. Stress and Anxiety
IBS has been linked to people suffering from stress and anxiety. People who have gone through any kind of trauma also seem to be more likely to suffer from IBS.
If IBS is brought on by stress and anxiety, be it due to everyday triggers or an underlying emotional problem/trauma, it’s important to deal with that. Cognitive behavioral therapy and many other kinds of therapy have proven beneficial to those suffering from mental health problems. To help deal with everyday stress, it’s also good to exercise and meditate as well as to ensure you have time to be social, relax, and sleep well. Spending time in nature, going for walks, and doing art projects also helps many people.
As hormones potentially play a role in IBS, it could be beneficial to find out if you are suffering from any hormonal imbalances. Women are more likely to suffer from IBS, and symptoms sometimes get worse around the time of menstruation.
4. Progressive Relaxation Exercises
Not only can stress be a trigger, but by learning to relax your body, you may also lessen your symptoms, even if your IBS is not brought on by stress. Using a technique where you first tense and then relax parts of your body step-by-step, starting with your toes and working your way up, has proven to help. If you practice this technique regularly, you’ll become better at relaxing your body. This can reduce stress as well as your symptoms, as you can work on relaxing when they kick in.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Electrical sensors help you receive information (feedback) on your body’s functions. The feedback helps you focus on making subtle changes, such as relaxing certain muscles, to ease symptoms.” In other words, this is similar to progressive relaxation exercises, only more specific. (5)
RELATED: What Is Biofeedback?
As studies have shown that some IBS sufferers have a different amount of microflora in their gut than those who don’t suffer from it, it makes sense to eat probiotics. Studies have also shown that probiotics do improve symptoms. (7)
In addition to probiotics, eating fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut helps balance the bacteria in your gut. You can also try fermented drinks, such as kombucha. You can easily make kombucha at home, and if you don’t like the sugar used in regular kombucha, you can make it with honey and maple syrup.
7. Anti-Inflammatories and Herbal Supplements
Just as IBS has been linked with poor colon bacteria, it’s also been linked to inflammation. Therefore, eating a diet that helps combat inflammation, as well as taking anti-inflammatory supplements, seems like a natural way to aid your body. Two of the most popular anti-inflammatory spices are turmeric and ginger. Studies surrounding the use of turmeric for IBS have shown some positive results. Ginger, on the other hand, is known to help people with gut problems and prevent nausea, but there are mixed reports on whether it helps combat symptoms or cures IBS. (5) (6) (8) (9)
Herbalists may also suggest peppermint to help reduce the spasms in your colon. (7)
8. Dr. John Sarno
Dr. John Sarno practiced medicine at New York University and wrote several books on the cause and treatment of chronic pain, particularly back pain, but he also mentioned gastrointestinal disorders. He discovered that many cases of chronic pain were caused by underlying emotional discomfort. He believed the brain’s response was to suppress emotional discomfort by causing pain (a distraction so that the patient wouldn’t have to think of the emotional discomfort).
Dr. Sarno also found that while many of his patients were aware of emotional upsets they had been through, the pain didn’t go away until they understood how the body had reacted to them. Thus, just being aware of your emotional trauma/discomfort is not enough to rid yourself of the pain.
While Dr. Sarno focused on back and limb pain, he also took an interest in other common ailments that may be caused by psychological factors including, as mentioned, gastrointestinal disorders. For something like IBS that has been linked to stress and emotional trauma, it’s well worth reading his books, particularly Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection, as it contains practical information on how to overcome the pain. However, he discusses more psychosomatic ailments in a later book, The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders. (4)
There is no way of knowing which of these eight methods will work best for you, if any. However, they’ve all shown promise and can hopefully help you overcome IBS—either when used individually or when combined.