IBS is also known as spastic colitis. It is a very common condition that causes changes in bowel habits and digestive upsets including abdominal pain, bloating, alternating constipation and diarrhoea. While the cause is unknown, it is recognised that key factors trigger the condition.
The main signs and symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- A bloated feeling or sensation of fullness even after light meals
- Nausea, poor appetite
- Gas (flatulence)
- Alternating between diarrhoea and constipation.
- Mucus in the stool
- Anxiety or depression
Why it happens?
There are a number of theories as to why IBS occurs, including:
- The nerves and muscles lining the intestinal wall normally contract and relax as food moves through the digestive tract. With IBS these nerves and muscles are very sensitive and cause strong painful contractions resulting in the food being passed through too fast, resulting in poor digestion, bloating, gas and diarrhoea. Sometimes the food passes too slowly causing constipation
- Hormonal changes in women – IBS flare ups are common during or around the menstrual periods
- Genetic tendency
- Medications – certain drugs such as antibiotics and painkillers may lead to constipation or diarrhoea
- Triggers will tend to vary from person to person – but known triggers include certain foods (wheat/gluten containing foods is an issue for some, for others lactose containing foods is a problem), stress and anxiety – all of which aggravate the IBS symptoms.
What natural therapies can help?
Psyllium husks 10-20g daily has been shown to help ease constipation.
Aloe vera – the polysaccharides in aloe vera inner leaf help relieve symptoms of IBS such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloating and flatulence.
Peppermint oil, chamomile, fennel and ginger can aid digestion and reduce symptoms such as bloating and abdominal cramps.
Probiotics provide a protective barrier in your digestive system, thus helping prevent bad bacteria residing in these areas. Studies show that Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium infantis improve symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and stool frequency or constipation.
Magnesium and calcium are important for proper nerve transmission and muscle contraction. They may be beneficial for the nerves and muscle in the colon.
B group vitamins – support the nervous system
Did you know?
- If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your healthcare professional to get a proper diagnosis. Symptoms of IBS are very similar to other diseases such as coeliac disease, lactose intolerance and intestinal infections.
- Once you have been diagnosed with IBS start a food diary. Record all food and beverages and times taken, your daily activities and the time of IBS symptoms. This information will help to sort out what aggravates your symptoms. Limit the foods that aggravate your symptoms. Usually foods that cause excessive gas are a problem such as cabbage and legumes.
- If stress is a factor look at what is stressing you out and find ways to work around it. Talking to someone may help to find a solution. Regular exercise and meditation are good ways to reduce stress.
- Eating at regular times and 5 -6 small meals rather than three large meals can place less stress on the intestines.
- When constipation is a problem, increase fibre in the diet slowly to give the gastrointestinal tract time to adapt and minimise gas, bloating or cramping.
- Adults should aim to consume 25-35g daily of dietary fibre. However not all fibre is the same – soluble fibre (found in green vegetables and oats) is generally tolerated well by IBS sufferers but insoluble fibre ((found in nuts and seeds) may aggravate IBS symptoms.
- Only resort to laxatives when it is absolutely necessary – your bowels can slacken off due to laxative abuse! Also be aware that laxatives can trigger IBS symptoms.