Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome accounts for up to 50% of all visits to gastrointestinal doctors (Pittler MH et al. 1998).  Typical symptoms of IBS include intestinal spasm and pain, abdominal pain relieved by defecation, constipation and/or diarrhea, and abdominal distension and bloating. Common underlying causes include weak digestion, dysbiosis, hidden food allergies and inflammatory colitis. These must all be identified and ruled out by taking a complete medical history, and treated comprehensively if present.

For very simple cases, just some supplemental magnesium or peppermint gels can relieve the tendency to spasm. According to a meta-analysis in the American Journal of Gastroenterolgy, peppermint oil is an effective treatment for  IBS. It usually take a week or two for the peppermint oil to relieve intestinal spasms, and in a month or two to promote rhythmic peristaltic movement.

One factor often ignored is stomach lining integrity. If the lining of the stomach is weak, less protective mucin is secreted and less hydrochloric acid. The weakness in the lining can contribute to food sensitivities – acids will create irritation, for example, and this may be misdiagnosed as excess acid. The irritated stomach membrane may dump stomach contents early to the bowel, creating membrane and nerve irritation leading to cramping and the need to run to the bathroom. DGL licorice or slippery elm can help here.

Stress is another often missed contributing factor that worsens IBS symptoms, or acts as a trigger. According to Ayurvedic theory, stress will worsen any condition involving irritated nerves.  The embarrasment of losing bowel control and having to run to the bathroom can create a vicious cycle worsening the condition – the fear of it happening can trigger it to happen. Deep breathing to calm oneself, or practice of Yoga, T’ai Chi or meditation can be helpful here, or nervine herbs like kava root, ashwagandha root or gokshura fruit (Tribulus terrestris), used alone or in combination.

If IBS is ignored or not treated properly, over time it can lead to more serious problems such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.