Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects between 10–15% of the population, making it one of the most common digestive issues people experience around the world. Symptoms of IBS include abdominal or stomach pain, cramping, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, indigestion, and heartburn. Although all of us may experience some of these symptoms on occasion, people with IBS experience digestive discomfort almost constantly over a long period of time.
At SRP, we recommend addressing the underlying causes of digestive problems with the help of a holistic practitioner and by following the GAPS diet as taught by Monica Corrado and Natasha Campbell-McBride.
But in the meantime, if you have a less severe case of IBS, you can reduce many symptoms by managing your diet, lifestyle, and stress. So while you work on healing this condition, also try exploring some of the following effective, natural ways of relieving your IBS symptoms.
Avoid Certain Foods
It’s important to pay attention to the signals your body sends you, especially if find that certain foods trigger your IBS symptoms. Though these differ from person to person, some foods affect IBS more than others. To track your particular dietary history, try keeping a journal of what you eat and any symptoms you experience. You may want to also pay particular attention to the following:
- Insoluble fiber – Found in foods such as wheat bran, leafy greens, broccoli, and most beans, insoluble fiber adds healthy bulk to your diet and helps relieve constipation. However, it can also increase bloating. If this is the case for you, try limiting foods high in insoluble fiber from your diet. Instead, try foods rich in soluble These include grains, nuts, and fruits.
- Dairy – Dairy products are high in fat and can cause diarrhea in people with IBS. Many people with IBS are also lactose intolerant, which exacerbates the problem. If this is the case for you, consider dairy alternatives made from soy, coconut, almonds, or rice.
- Caffeine – Though coffee and other caffeinated drinks help some people maintain regular bowel movements, for others it has a stimulating effect on the intestines that can trigger uncomfortable symptoms. If you need an energy boost, try eating a small snack or taking a brief walk instead.
- Alcohol – Many people with IBS are sensitive to alcohol. Not only does it often contain gluten or sugar, but it also causes dehydration. This can affect the stomach’s ability to produce acid and the liver’s ability to function. Even just one drink can disrupt your digestion and trigger symptoms.
- Large meals – Overeating can distend your stomach, causing cramps and bloating. It can also prevent the valve between your esophagus and stomach from closing properly, which may compound your IBS with regular acid reflux (also known as GERD). Instead of eating three big meals, try eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. This allows your body to process food more efficiently and prevents you from becoming overly full.
Try Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil can have an antispasmodic effect on the digestive system, relieving cramping and pain caused by IBS. You can take peppermint oil in capsule form or simply sip peppermint tea. However, peppermint oil can increase your risk for heartburn. Consuming it in excessive amounts can even cause kidney problems. Be sure to try this option in moderation until you understand how it effects your body.
Probiotics are good bacteria that occur naturally in our bodies and help us maintain a healthy digestive system. But medications such as painkillers, antacids, laxatives, and antibiotics (often found in highly processed meats and dairy products) are known to damage the probiotics in our digestive system, leaving more room for bad bacteria to grow. Fortunately, a variety of foods and supplements can help restore balance to digestive bacteria.
Though dairy is listed among foods that trigger IBS symptoms, high-quality organic yogurt often contains a large amount of probiotics. If you buy yogurt from a store, look for the National Yogurt Association’s “live and active cultures” seal to ensure the product offers a significant amount of probiotics. If you’re lactose intolerant, look for nondairy options. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi can also restore natural levels of probiotics.
Although stress does not directly cause IBS, it can aggravate symptoms by causing spasms and affecting bacteria levels in your intestines. Likewise, regular digestive discomfort can create a lot of stress on its own. Too much stress can cause a vicious cycle of physical pain and anxiety. Deep breathing exercises that engage your diaphragm rather than your chest can relax your abdominal muscles and help calm your mind. Other techniques for relieving stress and reducing IBS symptoms include yoga, meditation, and regular exercise.
People affected by IBS experience a range of different symptoms and triggers, and various options for relief have a stronger effect on some more than others. Practice moderation when it comes to any changes you make to your diet and lifestyle. Also keep a journal to track your methods and any progress you make. In addition to using natural remedies for digestive problems, it’s always a good idea to seek advice from a medical professional in order to safely diagnose and treat your condition.
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