Did you know that Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects as many at 1 in 5 Australians at some point in their lives? It is twice as likely to affect females than males and it often develops in late teens or early 20s. In earlier years it was referred to as a “spastic colon” or “nervous bowel”.
IBS is a gut disorder characterised by abdominal pain, bloating, abnormal contractions in the bowel, inflammation of the large intestine, constipation or diarrhoea, or an alternation of both. It is believed that the symptoms of IBS may be caused when the connection between the gut and brain is disrupted.
While the primary cause of IBS is still up for debate, but there are common factors that play a role in its development:
- Abnormal muscle pain and contractions in the intestinal walls
- Irregularities in your digestive system nerves
- Inflammation in the intestines from heightened immune system response
- Changes in the “good” bacteria in the gut called microflora
- Liver disfunction
AND THESE THINGS CAN BE TRIGGERED BY
Infections, stress, food intolerance, menstruation, or medication
Treating IBS can be difficult, many people turn to anti-diarrhoeal medicines, painkillers, constipation treatments or antispasmodics (to ease cramping). Although these treatments may work for a small minority of IBS suffers, the majority find that these types of medication can, in fact, irritate the bowel further, while decreasing one symptom, they may increase another.
Researchers noted in a study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, that several alternative therapies do seem to be effective at relieving symptoms.
Turmeric is well-known for its medicinal properties. It is perhaps the most effective dietary supplement on earth. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric and provides most of the notable health benefits with minimal side effects.
Curcumin also contains antimicrobial, antioxidant, and of course its most famous anti-inflammatory properties. Since inflammation of the large intestine is thought to be one possible cause of IBS, curcumin appears to combat this directly.
A study containing over 700 otherwise healthy volunteers sought to assess the effects of turmeric on IBS symptomology.
Among the volunteers, there was a one-tablet group and a two-tablet group. Here are the results:
- Between screening and baseline, IBS prevalence decreased by 41% and 57%
- Between baseline and after treatment, there was a significant drop of 53% and 60%
- Abdominal pain and discomfort reduced by 22% and 25% in a post-study analysis
- Significant improvements in the IBSQOL scales in both groups between 5% and 36%
The research also found that two-thirds of all volunteers with IBS reported improvements in their symptoms and experienced more favourable bowel patterns.
Mona Hecke, Naturopath and Author talks about benefits turmeric and IBS.
Magnesium powder has long been recognised as the go-to supplement well, just about anything. This is in part due to the reputation its nutrients have for relieving everything from insomnia to stress, but the 3 main symptoms it really seems to excel at tackling are IBS, anxiety and migraines.
Gut muscle contraction is a key component to causing IBS symptoms and this can cause bloating, cramps, and diarrhoea. Magnesium helps relax these muscles and that leads to feeling much better. Look for a magnesium powder with magnesium citrate. Magnesium citrate is an osmotic laxative, which means it gently relaxes the bowels and shouldn’t cause urgency bathroom trips.
Other Natural Alternatives to Consider
These live bacteria—found in supplements or in fermented foods like yoghurt and kefir— aid in maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria within the gut. Is has been suggested that a healthy gut can greatly reduce flare-ups of IBS in many people.
Getting more fibre, either through food or supplements, does seem to improve some cases of IBS. Different types of fibre—including psyllium, wheat bran, and calcium polycarbophil— have had promising results in studies. Foods high in fibre—such as beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—are typically low-calorie and full of vitamins and other nutrients and can easily be added into your daily diet.
Of all the herbal remedies, peppermint oil seemed to have the most promising results in clinical trials. Peppermint oil is thought to be a natural anti-spasmodic, and it seems to be beneficial specifically for those who do have a lot of pain due to IBS.
These supplements may not be overly common; however, studies have shown that they can be extremely helpful in reducing symptoms of IBS. Our bodies naturally produce digestive enzymes, however, if we don’t have enough of a certain type of enzyme, the food that enzyme is programmed to breakdown isn’t, causing irritation within the digestive system.
While stress relief may not come in a bottle, it’s one of the most important natural remedies to consider when dealing with IBS. Sometimes stress worsens symptoms and sometimes symptoms worsen stress. You can’t always modify your stressors, but you can modify your response to that stress.
There are many foods that have shown to have anti-inflammatory properties which may help reduce symptoms of IBS. With the rise in natural remedies, alternative therapies and eating for health diets, it is no surprise that more studies are being conducted on these foods.
The below foods have shown to possess high levels of anti-inflammatory properties.
- Olive Oil
- Fruit – Strawberries, Blueberries, Oranges
- Nuts – Almonds, Walnut
- Leafy Greens – Spinach, Kale
- Fatty Fish – Salmon, Tuna, Sardines
- Whole Grains – Brown Rice, Quinoa
- Herbs & Spices – Turmeric, Cinnamon, Cloves