IBS (or irritable bowel syndrome), as the name implies, are irritable bowels giving rise to a constellation of signs and symptoms, including but not limited to:
- recurrent tummy aches
- bowel habits alternating with diarrhea and constipation (the bowels are constipated at one time and lax at the other)
- a feeling of incomplete bowel emptying with straining at the stool
- symptoms often relieved after pooping
The condition affects about 10-20% of the population across the globe and takes a heavy toll on the quality of life and health of its sufferers.
While there are a few pharmacological options available to tackle the IBS symptoms, given the chronic nature of the disease, these options do not really help in the long-term. This is where the role of natural IBS remedies comes into play.
1. Dietary tweaks
Dietary modifications are the cornerstone of IBS therapy. You need to cut down the supposed culprits, then gradually add them back and see how your symptoms react to it. Keeping a food diary to spot the culprit food is also a great idea.
Follow these dietary tweaks to rid the IBS symptoms:
- Stick to a regular meal pattern
- breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks as needed
- avoid skipping meals
- do not leave long intervals between meals
- avoid late night munchies
- take time to sit down and eat
- chew your food slowly and thoroughly
- Reduce the intake of these foods:
- added sugar
- processed foods
- insoluble fibers like bran
- spicy foods
- Soluble fibers, such as psyllium husk and linseeds, may benefit IBS symptoms without causing bloating and distension. Always consume these fibers with plenty of water.
- Drink plenty of water and fresh juices
2. Low FODMAP diet
When IBS symptoms persist, a low FODMAP diet delivered only by an expert healthcare professional is recommended. FODMAP that stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides or carbs, Disaccharides such as lactose in dairy products, Monosaccharides such as fructose in apples, Polyols such as in stoned fruits, can create problems for people with IBS.
A low FODMAP diet includes:
- Vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, green beans, eggplant, tomato, green onion, bell pepper, zucchini, bok choy
- Cereals: wheat-free grains or wheat-free products, spelt products, corn, oats, rice, quinoa
- Lactose-free milk such as almond or rice milk, lactose-free yogurt
- Fruits: blueberry, grapefruit, grape, honeydew melon, kiwifruit, lemon, orange, mandarin, raspberry, strawberry, passion fruit
You may or may not respond to a low FODMAP diet. The response is usually seen at a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks. However, if there’s no response within this time frame, your doctor will likely ask you to stop the low FODMAP diet plan.
3. Gluten-free diet
While gluten isn’t the major culprit in IBS, some people may respond to a gluten-free diet. More appropriately, it is wheat rather than the gluten that causes IBS flare-ups.
4. Probiotics and probiotic-rich foods
These live, active healthy bacteria have long been revered for their ability to alleviate IBS symptoms. An out-of-balance gut flora is often found to be the culprit behind IBS symptoms. Try integrating probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha into your diet. Alternatively, probiotic supplements like Microbiome Plus+ may also restore the good gut bacteria and relieve IBS symptoms. Try out the supplement for a minimum of 4 weeks to see how your symptoms respond.
On top of an IBS-friendly diet and probiotics, regular physical activity has also been shown to curtail IBS symptoms, clear the bothersome intestinal gas, reduce bloating and relieve constipation.
6. Mind-body therapies
Because stress and IBS have a major connection, practicing relaxation techniques can help mitigate your bowel concerns. Hypnotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy seem to be helpful for IBS symptoms.