Is It Possible To Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome Naturally?

If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), then you know first-hand that it doesn't make life easy. Uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing symptoms can be distressing, particularly when they affect your ability to get out and live your life.

So, is it possible to deal with those symptoms through lifestyle changes and natural remedies? The answer is yes, to a point. There is no cure for IBS, and all treatment focuses on managing your symptoms so you can live more normally.

As with many things, everyone is different and what works for one person might not work for another. However, there are some simple things you can try that may relieve your symptoms.

Have you considered clinical trials for Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Exercise

Moderate exercise a few times a week has been shown to improve symptoms of IBS¹. The participants of this study reported walking, aerobics, and cycling as their methods, but any aerobic exercise is likely to be helpful. The best kind of exercise is the exercise you do regularly.

In addition to improving symptoms, exercise also helps with depression and anxiety. These mental health symptoms² are often associated with IBS. Exercise also has numerous other health benefits. Make sure to ramp up exercise intensity slowly and discuss your approach with your doctor if you have any concerns.

Eat more fiber (the right kind)

Increased dietary fiber can help relieve your symptoms. However, you must consume the right kind of fiber³. There are two kinds: soluble fiber, which can increase gas production and cause discomfort, and insoluble fiber, which does not.

Thus, you should talk to your doctor or nutritionist. They may recommend a fiber supplement, particularly psyllium.

Soluble fiber is typically found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus, carrots, and barley. Insoluble fiber, meanwhile, is found in whole-wheat flour, bran, nuts, beans, and vegetables. While psyllium contains both kinds of fiber, it has been proven to help. You should avoid high-fiber foods that increase flatulence.

Watch for dairy and gluten

IBS can be a sign of issues with either lactose⁴, gluten⁵,  or both. Talk to your doctor about cutting out dairy, then gluten-based grains from your diet to see if your symptoms improve. If you eliminate dairy, make sure to eat high calcium vegetables or take a supplement to make sure that you are getting enough calcium in your diet.

Lactose intolerance can exacerbate  IBS symptoms, so for some patients, cutting out dairy can make a huge difference.

Try relaxation techniques

IBS is often linked to stress. Therefore, certain relaxation techniques⁶ can help reduce symptoms. The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders recommends that you try one or more of the following:

  1. Abdominal breathing. Put your hand over your belly button, close your eyes and breathe deeply until you feel your hand rise, then exhale slowly. You should do five to ten slow, deep breaths, counting to four with each one.

  2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Sit or lie down. Take three or four abdominal breaths, then tense and relax the muscles in your body in sequence, all the way from your forehead down to your toes. This can take 20 to 25 minutes but can be well worth it.

  3. Visualization. This is a meditation technique where you imagine yourself in a calm, peaceful, and relaxing place. You can choose to visualize whatever place makes you feel calm. Imagine it in full detail.

These techniques are also used to reduce anxiety and depression.

Keep a food diary

A food diary is a record of what you ate, and when, and what your symptoms were like afterward. By keeping a detailed record, you can track down both foods which aggravate your symptoms and foods which appear to make things better. Over time, this lets you personalize your IBS diet.

The most common problem foods are beans, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, alcohol, chocolate, coffee, soda, and dairy. But your problem foods are individual to you and keeping a detailed record is the best way to establish what they are.

Get a heat pad

A heating pad can be of great help when abdominal pain strikes, particularly if your IBS symptoms are relatively intermittent. Placing the heating pad on the abdomen can relax your bowel and relieve symptoms.

Probiotics

Probiotics help balance your gut by adding beneficial bacteria, notably Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria. Thankfully, these are readily available in probiotic drinks or yogurts. However, you should avoid the latter if you are lactose intolerant or find dairy worsens your symptoms.

You can take probiotics long-term or just while you get your diet balanced. Be aware, though, that if you stop taking probiotics prematurely, your symptoms might return.

Herbs

Certain herbs⁷ have also been demonstrated as useful for IBS sufferers. Always tell your doctor if you are trying a herbal remedy, to make sure that it is not going to interact with your medication.

Useful herbs include turmeric, globe artichoke, wild candytuft, and peppermint. Of these, peppermint has been proven the most helpful.

Try the low FODMAP diet

The low FODMAP diet is not a long-term solution to IBS but is a short-term investigatory diet that can help you quickly work out what foods are a problem for you. FODMAP, in this context, stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are sugars that the small intestine struggles to absorb.

There are three steps to the low FODMAP diet. For two to six weeks, you stop eating all the foods on the list. Then you reintroduce them one at a time. If you get symptoms after re-starting a food, you can add it to your list of things to avoid.

Your doctor or nutritionist can provide the full list, but typically you eliminate:

  • Milk, yogurt, and ice cream

  • Wheat-based cereal, crackers, and bread

  • Beans and lentils

  • Certain vegetables, including artichokes, asparagus, onions, and garlic

  • Certain fruits, including apples, cherries, pears, and peaches.

Again, this is a heavy-duty elimination diet that should not be followed for long, or without supervision, but it can help you spot your food triggers faster than keeping a food diary.

Drink plenty of fluids

Staying well hydrated helps keep your bowels working properly. Always drink plenty of water throughout the day and remember that alcohol, caffeine, and carbonation can all make your symptoms worse. If you are bored with water, consider naturally-sweetened flavored water.

In addition to helping your symptoms, drinking plenty of water supports your overall health.

The lowdown

If you are living with IBS, there are medications you can take. However, there are also natural approaches, which include exercise, relaxation, and tracking down the foods which cause a flare-up so you can eliminate them from your diet.

Some patients may find that following these tips alone results in a significant improvement in quality of life, but you should always work with your doctor and nutritionist for a rounded approach to managing your condition.

Have you considered clinical trials for Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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