Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects a large percentage of the population. Fully 30 – 50 percent of all referrals to a gastroenterologist are for IBS. It is often diagnosed by cramps in the lower abdomen, diarrhea, constipation, gas or bloating. Some people may actually limit their day-to-day movements according to the location of the nearest toilet.
What to do about it? First we need to determine if you have a food sensitivity. Many people say they have none but symptoms may take as much as a day or two to show up and the effects may be cumulative. You may have a wheat allergy but nothing happens the first time you ingest it. However, if you have wheat every day for a week you may have diarrhea at the end of that time.
All symptoms can disappear when certain foods are eliminated. I have found that the major food allergens that affect the bowel are wheat, all foods containing gluten, dairy, nuts and citrus. In addition to food sensitivities, food triggers such as caffeine, sorbital, alcohol, aspertane and various drugs can also cause problems.
Step two is to rule out yeast overgrowth in the gut, which alters the health of the colon. If the yeast is overgrown, a Candida cleanse is important. Adding fibre such as ground flax or psyllium seeds can help to relieve the symptoms of constipation or diarrhea.
Other supplements are also important. Naturopathic physicians have been using a herbal combination called Robert’s Formula for many decades. It contains many herbs including slippery elm and marshmallow extract, which help to soothe the irritation of the gut. Probiotics are important to recolonize the gut’s flora, which have surely been altered by the changed bowel movements. The basics are also important such as good multi and omega 3 vitamins because absorption of nutrients from food has almost certainly been impeded.
Then there is stress. Our gut operates well in the relaxed or para-sympathetic state. Some people hold their tension in their gut so it’s very important to learn to do deep or abdominal breathing to relax this area.
Exercise is important for reducing stress and helping the muscles to relax. A relaxation tape can also help. Biofeedback can also be useful. We also need to change our attitudes toward stressful situations and perhaps work with a professional to do that.
Dr. Paulette Roscoe is a naturopathic physician who practices in Nanaimo. She welcomes your calls at 754-1733.