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Table of Contents > Articles > Soothing Irritable Bowel Syndrome ...
Soothing Irritable Bowel Syndrome Naturally

As many as one in five Americans has experienced irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also known as spastic colon. It is the most common gastrointestinal complaint, and is especially common among women. This disorder can range from a mild annoyance to a life-changing problem. For many people, it is a major cause for missing work or school.

The symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating and cramping, intestinal gas, painful bowel movements, and diarrhea, constipation, or both. The symptoms may be the result of a variety of factors, including:

  • stress
  • food allergies
  • medication (particularly antibiotics)
  • an imbalance of intestinal flora
  • parasites
  • a large meal
  • changes in reproductive hormones

In addition, researchers believe that those with IBS may have a colon that is more reactive than normal.

Food seems to be a major factor for most people with IBS. The most common food allergens that can cause symptoms are wheat, corn, dairy products, coffee, tea, citrus fruits, and chocolate. Some people's bodies are intolerant of certain sugars. Many people with IBS have undiagnosed lactose intolerance.

If you have IBS, pay attention to which foods seem to trigger your symptoms. You might even keep a diary to track this. You can also try an elimination diet. Remove all suspected food allergens from your diet for two weeks. Then every three days reintroduce one food and note any reactions.

Stress often triggers IBS symptoms, so look for ways to better manage the stress in your life. It helps to get regular exercise and to keep involved in some hobbies. You can also try meditation, prayer, biofeedback, or self-hypnosis. A National Institutes of Health panel determined in 1995 that hypnotherapy is an effective treatment for IBS. One study found that people with IBS had decreased symptoms after 12 weeks of self-hypnotherapy sessions using audiotapes that included visualization and relaxation instruction.

There are numerous herbs that may help relieve IBS. Here are some of the most common:

Chamomile is anti-inflammatory and reduces gas. The easiest and most effective dose is to drink a cup of chamomile tea after meals. Chamomile is considered very safe.

Ginger relieves gas pain and enhances healthy intestinal activity. Ginger can also be taken in tea after meals. Don't use ginger if you have gallstones or are pregnant. Talk with your doctor first if you are taking heart or diabetes medication.

Peppermint oil serves as a muscle relaxant. It can cause heartburn so choose enteric-coated capsules. A recommended dose is one to two capsules after a meal. Do not use if pregnant or in high doses, and do not give to young children.

Psyllium seed fiber reduces constipation. Follow the dosage recommendations given on the package insert. Be sure to take psyllium seed fiber with plenty of water and not at the same time as any other medications.

Valerian relieves gas, relaxes muscles, and soothes pain. Do not use it if you're pregnant. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking valerian because it can interact with many herbs and medications.

To avoid dehydration that can accompany diarrhea and to improve constipation, make it a habit to drink a lot of water and other clear fluids.

Although IBS is common and manageable, be sure to visit your physician to verify that your symptoms are related to IBS and not another condition.


Forbes A, MacAuley S, Chiotakakou-Faliakou E. Hypnotherapy for irritable bowel syndrome—a blinded randomized controlled trial. Presented at the Digestive Disease Week meetings, May 16-19, 1999, Orlando, Fla.

Houghton LA, Larder S, Lee R, et al. Gut focused hypnotherapy normalises rectal hypersensitivity in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Presented at the Digestive Disease Week meetings, May 16-19, 1999, Orlando, Fla.

Integrative Medicine Communications. A Physician's Reference to Botanical Medicines (booklet). Newton, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications, Inc.

Integrative Medicine Communications. Integrative Medicine Access: Professional Reference to Conditions, Herbs & Supplements. Newton, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.

National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Acupuncture Information and Resources. Available at:

National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. NIH Panel Endorses Alternative Therapies for Chronic Pain and Insomnia. CAM Newsletter Dec 1995; 2(5-6). Available at:

Vernia P, Ricciardi MR, Frandina C, Bilotta T, Frieri G. Lactose malabsorption and irritable bowel syndrome: effect of a long-term lactose-free diet. Ital J Gastroenterol 1995;27(3):117-121.

Review Date: March 2000
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

Food Allergy
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
German Chamomile
Roman Chamomile
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Herbal Medicine
Mind/Body Medicine
Relaxation Techniques

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