Conditions & Ailments


Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a digestive disorder


What is Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS?


Irritable bowel syndrome is one of the most common digestive disorders with twice as many women suffering from the condition as men, and usually affects people between the ages of twenty five and forty five.  IBS is also sometimes called spastic colitis, spastic colon, intestinal neurosis or mucous colitis.  Although irritable bowel syndrome causes a great deal of discomfort and pain, it does not permanently harm the intestines and does not lead to any other serious diseases.  Many people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome still manage to lead healthy and active lives by changing their diets and replacing lost nutrients.

Irritable bowel syndrome occurs when the normally rhythmic muscular contractions of the digestive tract become irregular and uncoordinated.  This process is called peristalsis.  The normal movement of waste material and food through the digestive tract is disrupted and a build-up of toxins and mucus occurs in the intestine.  The accumulated material causes an obstruction of the digestive tract, trapping stools and gas, which then causes distention, constipation, bloating and abdominal pain.  People suffering from IBS often report that constipation alternates with diarrhea.

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome

The main symptoms of IBS are bloating, abdominal pain, discomfort constipation and/or diarrhea.  Symptoms vary greatly from person to person, but below is a list of general symptoms reported by patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome:

  • Pain and discomfort occurring in different parts of the abdomen that is relieved with bowel movement.  Bouts of pain vary in length and intensity.
  • Bloating and swelling of the abdomen occurs and the patient suffers from flatulence.
  • Some people suffer from bouts of constipation and diarrhea whilst other people have diarrhea that alternates with constipation.
  • Nausea and in some cases, vomiting.
  • Mucus in stools.
  • Intolerance to certain foods.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Heartburn.
Many people only have occasional flare-ups of IBS symptoms, whilst others have symptoms over long periods of time.  Because of the pain associated with irritable bowel syndrome, many people do not eat properly and malnutrition occurs.  Diarrhea is also a main cause of malnutrition because of the loss of valuable nutrients.

NB!  If you notice blood in your stools, advise your health care practitioner immediately as this is not a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome.

What causes irritable bowel syndrome?

Researchers and doctors have yet to establish a specific cause of IBS, however they have linked the flare-up of symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome to stress, food allergies and even a weakened immune system.

A proper diagnosis of IBS can only be made when other disorders causing similar symptoms are ruled out.  These disorders include Crohn"s disease, endometriosis, lactose intolerance, diverticulitis or ulcerative colitis.

There are many other diseases that have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome, including colon cancer, diabetes mellitus, gallbladder disease, candidiasis and ulcers.  As mentioned before, IBS does however not cause these diseases.

Your health care practitioner can perform a series of tests to rule out any other serious diseases of the bowel.  These tests include colonoscopies, rectal biopsies, barium enemas and stool examinations.

How can supplements help me?

Clinical trials have shown that people greatly benefit by using herbal medicines for symptomatic treatment of irritable bowel syndrome.  

If you suffer from IBS, it is recommended to treat your liver as well as your digestive tract to ensure that you remove toxins from your liver.  Milk thistle is the best option for detoxifying your liver.

All the herbal medicines listed here can be combined with one another and even with conventional medicines.  

Supplement Recommendations

Supplement

Dosage

Peppermint oil 1 or 2 capsules 3 times a day between meals
Psyllium 1-3 tbsp powder dissolved in water or juice once a day
Acidophilus 1 pill a day on an empty stomach
Ginger 200 mg standardized extract once a day
Flaxseed or Evening primrose oil 1 000 mg twice a day
Aloe Vera Half a cup of juice three times a day


Peppermint oil relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract and relieves cramps.  The menthol in peppermint aids in digestion and also reduces nausea.

Psyllium is a source of soluble fiber that can help to normalize bowel function and therefore assists with both constipation and diarrhea.

Acidophilus assists in restoring the natural balance of intestinal flora in the gastrointestinal tract.  

Ginger works in the digestive tract by boosting digestive juices and neutralizing acids.  Ginger is also especially useful in reducing pain and discomfort associated with irritable bowel syndrome.

Flaxseed oil or Evening primrose oil helps to protect the intestinal lining.

Aloe vera is known to heal the digestive tract and to keep the colon wall clean of excess mucus.

Other recommendations

Make sure that you eat a diet high in fiber that will normalize bowel function.

Avoid animal fats, butter, coffee, caffeine-containing substances, carbonated beverages, dairy products, spicy foods, orange and grapefruit juice, as well as all junk and processed foods.  Also try to avoid wheat bran and wheat products. These foods all cause an excess of mucus by the membranes in the intestinal tract that can prevent the uptake of nutrients.

Try to keep a food diary.  This is helpful to establish if your IBS symptoms are caused by an allergy to certain foods.

Take a multivitamin and mineral supplement as diarrhea associated with irritable bowel syndrome can deplete essential nutrients.  

Reminder

Please consult your medical practitioner prior to using any herbal medications should you be under their care.  Suggestions offered are not intended to replace appropriate medical investigation and treatment.

 




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