The term syndrome refers to a group of symptoms which in the case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) occur in the large intestine or colon. The main symptoms are changes in bowel movement between constipation and diarrhoea, spasmodic pain and bloating. There may also be mucus in the stool, a feeling that the rectum has not empties completely, fatigue, headaches, nausea and vomiting or anxiety and depression. Having this syndrome can impact on a person’s quality of life. Passing blood is not a symptom and requires medical assistance, you would need to see a doctor urgently.
The cause is not known, sometimes it starts after an infection or food poisoning or there may be problems with the muscles in the intestines, some link the start of it to a stressful event. Infection or food poisoning may cause the bowel to become more sensitive. Intolerance to certain foods is thought to be the cause in only a few cases. It is most common amongst women and between the age of 25 and 45. Some women report a worsening of symptoms around the time of their period which could indicate hormone involvement.
Stress is believed to be a trigger that can worsen IBS. The nerves of the autonomic nervous system serve the intestine and in times of stress it may become more active and contract more. Some experts think that a problem with this nervous system is the cause of IBS. Finding methods of stress relief may help; one could try complementary therapies, meditation or exercise such as Tai Chi.
Treatment involves symptom relief, trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, stress reduction, regular meal times and dietary changes.
Low fat, small regular meals are recommended to try and prevent symptoms. Lactose intolerance can present with similar symptoms so it is worth being tested to check if there is a problem with digesting lactose. Drink plenty of water and avoid foods which make symptoms worse, common foods to avoid are coffee, milk, sorbitol and strong spices.
There is conflicting information around on the use of fibre, all seem to agree that soluble fibre (found in fruit, vegetables and oats) can help IBS but some authors suggest avoiding insoluble fibre(found in wheat bran, whole grain and fruit skins) whilst others say it helps if the sufferer has constipation.
A way to check yourself for possible food allergies at home is to do an elimination diet, the most common food allergies are wheat, dairy, citrus, soy, gluten (the protein in rye, wheat and oats), corn and soy. Avoid all of these foods for about two to three weeks. Then re-introduce one new food every couple of days. See if symptoms return or there is a negative reaction when re-introducing a food. Alcohol, coffee, tea and smoking can also be stimulants to the bowel and should be avoided.
For safety a trained practitioner could supervise an elimination diet to check for food intolerances. Many foods are removed from the diet for a brief period of time, and then re-introduced in a sequence to check the body's reaction to different foods as they are added.
Peppermint oil capsules, prebiotic foods which increase natural bacteria or probiotic drinks which supplement friendly bacteria can all help with wind and bloating.
Herbs to Help
Helpful herbs could help with stress and symptoms of IBS such as pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
Anise seeds contain the volatile oil, anethol that relaxes the intestine. Anise relieves nausea and is helpful for colic pain. It regulates digestion, making it useful for both constipation and diarrhoea which can both be involved with IBS.
Anise is also helpful for trapped wind, bloating, vomiting, chronic diarrhoea, gastrointestinal cramps, and sluggish digestion. It's a mild sedative and is useful for calming stress-related nervousness and relieving insomnia so can also be used preventatively if stress is a trigger. Anise is anti-spasmodic and helps prevent fermentation and gas in the stomach and bowels. It is used in a tea or seeds can be chewed.
Bramble roots and leaves can be used in a vinegar for IBS. Bramble, or blackberry is astringent and can help stop diarrhoea.
Calendula tincture mixed with a water three times a day helps with diarrhoea and constipation.
Caraway has anti-spasmodic effects, stimulates the production of gastric juices and is carminative so reduces bloating. Active ingredients in caraway seeds, carvol and carvene, soothe the smooth muscle tissues of the bowel.
Caraway seeds in can be brewed into tea, lightly crushing the seeds first will increase their strength or alternatively, the seeds can just be chewed.
Chamomile reduces inflammation and relieves spasms in the bowels. Chamomile has a calming effect on smooth muscle tissue, making it an effective remedy for gastrointestinal spasms as well as GI tension resulting from stress. Chamomile is also used for indigestion and gas. A tincture can be mixed with warm water and consumed three times a day to relieve intestinal spasms
Dandelion roots, roasted are a gentle laxative, helping the liver and kidneys to do their work and keeping the bowels in a healthy condition.
Fennel has anti-spasmodic properties and it stimulates the production of gastric juices. Fennel tea is beneficial for bloating and gas, which tend to be the most difficult IBS symptoms to overcome.
Fennel is useful for gastrointestinal cramps and bowel irregularities and studies have shown that fennel can regulate contractions of the small intestine.
The active ingredients are the volatile oils anethole, fenchone, and estragole. The higher the volatile oil content of the fennel, the more effective the tea will be for IBS symptoms.
Anethole has a chemical structure similar to dopamine, a chemical that is naturally present in the body. Dopamine is known to have a relaxing effect on the intestine. Fennel also has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, probably also as a result of the anethole, which has been shown to be anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anticarcinogenic.
Garlic will help expel gas and has the added benefit of helping your colon rid itself of mucus and parasites which could cause some of the IBS problems.
Ginger acts as an anti-spasmodic, helps prevent vomiting, and improves the tone of intestinal muscles. It also has a mild anti-inflammatory action. Livestrong.com says that as an analgesic, ginger is comparable to ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for fighting inflammation and pain, which are common among IBS sufferers.
Lemon Balm tea relieves intestinal spasms and is relaxing.
Milk Thistle relieves constipation while supporting liver function.
Oregano contains two volatile oils, thymol and carvacol, which act as anti-spasmodics, increase the production of gastric juices and ease bloating and wind. It is part of the mint family and has similar properties.
Peppermint oil reduces abdominal pain and the bloating of irritable bowel syndrome, possibly by blocking the movement of calcium into muscle cells in the intestines and easing excessive muscle contraction there. Peppermint is considered a carminative herb, which means that it is used to eliminate excess gas in the intestines. Peppermint tea from the herb would be carminative but may be gentler than the oil capsules.
Menthol and methyl salicylate are the main active ingredients of peppermint. They have anti-spasmodic actions, with calming effects on the muscles of the stomach and intestinal tract. They also have powerful analgesic (pain-killing) properties, which are mediated, in part, through activation of kappa-opioid receptors, which help block pain signal transmission.
Rosemary tea helps ease cramping.
Slippery elm is thought to calm digestive irritation by coating the lining of the intestinal system. Slippery elm can help with IBS symptoms; by adding bulk to the stool, it is thought to ease diarrhoea and by softening the stool, it helps to ease constipation. Slippery elm calms irritated mucous membranes and aids digestive problems linked to IBS