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,
- food allergies
- medication (particularly antibiotics)
- an imbalance of intestinal flora
- 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
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
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.