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IBS

General characteristics

General characteristics

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), also known as 'spastic colon', is the term used to describe a state of spasm and irritation within the large intestine/bowel/colon. Certain aggravating factors (which seem to differ from person to person) cause the intestinal walls to spasm more frequently and for longer duration than is normal. This can cause symptoms such as pain, diarrhoea, constipation or alternating diarrhoea and constipation, nausea, wind and bloatedness, a feeling of incomplete emptying of the bowel, mucous in the stools, urgency to defecate, headaches and occasionally muscle aches and pains.

The medical establishment offers no real definitive cause or treatment but there seems to be a common picture emerging that involves a combination of exaggerated emotional states (such as anxiety, stress, etc), hypersensitive and over-reactive bowel muscles, an imbalance of intestinal bacterial populations, recent infections in the digestive system and poor dietary choices. It is also more common in women.


Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Pay careful attention to your diet and keep a food diary for a couple of weeks to a month, detailing meal times, snacks and drinks and what they contain and how they affected you. Also make a note of times of stress etc. and if that has any effects on your symptoms. This way, if there are any intolerances to wheat, dairy, fructose etc. they will become evident.

Avoid all processed, junk, high sugar, refined foods, hydrogenated fats and all foods containing them.

Many sufferers report success by cutting out foods containing gluten (all types of wheat, rye, barley, oats). Gluten can act as an irritant in some and lead to unhealthy changes in the intestinal walls.

Many IBS sufferers are also intolerant to fructose so avoid all sources including anything containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) such as fizzy drinks and sweet junk foods.

Watch your intake of carbohydrates and simple sugars. Try to rely instead on more protein and good, unadulterated fats in the form of vegetables, fruits with low fructose content (such as berries and citrus fruits), sprouted seeds and grains, nuts and seeds and oily fish. These foods will also increase the amount of fibre you are getting which helps to regulate intestinal movements.

Use turmeric, cinnamon and ginger in your cooking as all have beneficial effects on the whole digestive system. Add a teaspoon of turmeric powder to herbal teas also for its incredibly positive effects on the digestive system.

Use the culinary herbs like thyme, marjoram, mints, basil, all the seeds like caraway, cardamon, cumin, aniseed and such. They are widely used in cooking (and have been for thousands of years) for the very reason that they greatly benefit digestion, as well as taste delicious.


Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Herbs should be used to encourage better digestion in the long term. A multi-pronged approach should include attention to dietary fibre, nutrient rich foods and water intake, avoidance of simple sugars and junk food, encouraging normal digestive juice secretions, re-balancing bowel bacteria, healing any intestinal damage and aiming to normalise bowel movements. Stress management is also crucial. Herbs can also be used as short term relief against symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation and wind but this approach may never get to the root cause of the problem.
Antispasmodic herbs that reduce the painful spasms and reduce flatulence include wild yam, chamomile, passionflower, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, rosemary, crampbark, peppermint, hops, lemon balm and valerian. Overall digestive tonics include holy thistle, gentian, chamomile, barberry and wild yam. You can make a formula from the tinctures by selecting 3 from each group and combine in equal proportions. Take a teaspoon in a little water after meals.
Anti-diarrhoeals include the astringent herbs like meadowsweet, raspberry leaf, agrimony, tormentil and cranesbill. Use in tea form for best results.
Ground ivy can tone membranes, soothe inflammation and pain and encourage better all-round digestion.
Herbs to safely relieve constipation that will not become habit forming include liqourice, yellow dock, barberry and dandelion root. Aloe vera juice has proved beneficial for many as does a pinch of rhubarb root powder in water or teas.
Strong chamomile tea is an age old remedy for all digestive problems. Use 2 teaspoons per cup and sip after meals.
Psyllium husks/seeds can help to relieve both diarrhoea and constipation. They absorb water (so drink plenty while using it) and swell to provide a mucilaginous bulk which acts to both slow down diarrhoea and act as a bulk fibre to prevent constipation. Start by adding a teaspoon to a meal and gradually increase to a few teaspoon daily if it is well tolerated and no symptoms worsen.
Fenugreek seeds can be used in the same way as psyllium seeds, with very similar actions.
 
Schisandra berries can improve all round digestive health, relieve spasm, encourage proper peristalsis, increase digestive juice secretion if needed and encourage a decent bowel movement as well as soothe stress.

Natural healing

Natural healing

Many people report excellent results with apple cider vinegar (always use a brand that is 'with the mother'). Effective doses vary from a teaspoon in an 8oz glass of water morning and evening, to a tablespoon in water after meals or 3 times daily. It seems to encourage a higher percentage of good to bad bacteria in the bowel and does not have to be taken indefinitely, just until positive results are achieved.
Activated charcoal powder has positive effects for some people. About a tablespoon daily seems to be the average dose.
Probiotics, the 'good' bacteria helps many people with IBS. The strain Bifidobacterium Infantis (present in breast milk) has shown very promising results. The Lactobcilli strains seem more effective for IBS sufferers who tend towards diarrhoea.

 

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