Natural Remedies for Managing IBS-C and IBS-D
Living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be challenging, but there are several natural remedies that can provide relief and support digestive health. Rather than relying solely on medications, many individuals with IBS turn to natural remedies to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. These remedies encompass various approaches, including dietary modifications, lifestyle changes, herbal supplements, and mind-body techniques. Natural remedies for IBS aim to address the underlying imbalances in the digestive system, reduce inflammation, promote healthy bowel movements, and alleviate symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and irregular bowel habits. In this article, I will explore a range of effective natural remedies that can be incorporated into a holistic approach to managing IBS.
“Dietary modifications to try for IBS include: an elimination diet, a low FODMAP diet or an anti-inflammatory diet”
Diet Modifications for IBS Relief
Trial an elimination diet for 6 weeks
An elimination diet can be a helpful approach for individuals with IBS to identify trigger foods that may worsen their symptoms. The first step is to eliminate common trigger foods known to aggravate IBS symptoms, such as certain types of carbohydrates (FODMAPs), gluten, dairy, caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods. This elimination phase typically lasts for a few weeks, allowing the body to reset and symptoms to improve. After the elimination phase, foods are systematically reintroduced one at a time to identify specific triggers. Keeping a food diary and noting any symptom changes during the reintroduction phase can help determine which foods may be problematic. By following an elimination diet, individuals with IBS can gain valuable insights into their dietary triggers and make informed choices to manage their symptoms effectively.
The Low FODMAP Diet: Restricting Fermentable Carbohydrates
A low FODMAP diet is a dietary approach that limits certain types of carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. These are types of carbohydrates that are not completely absorbed in the small intestine and are instead fermented by bacteria in the colon, producing gas and other byproducts that can cause symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea. For individuals that might be sensitive to FODMAPSs, trial a low FODMAP diet for 6 weeks. Potato, sweet potato, kale, carrots, courgette, tomatoes, peppers, olives, underripe bananas and berries are examples of low-FODMAP fruits and vegetables. Onion, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beans, pulses, apples, pears and dried fruit are all examples of high FODMAP fruit and vegetables. Gradually re-introduce the high FODMAP foods after 6 weeks to test your tolerance of these foods. Consider seeking support from a registered nutritional therapist.
Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet
Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet can be beneficial for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) by reducing inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and alleviating symptoms. An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on consuming whole, unprocessed foods that are rich in nutrients and have anti-inflammatory properties. This typically involves emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and herbs/spices known for their anti-inflammatory effects. By incorporating these foods, individuals with IBS can potentially reduce gut inflammation, which may contribute to symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel habits. Additionally, an anti-inflammatory diet encourages the avoidance or reduction of known inflammatory triggers, such as processed foods, refined sugars, trans fats, and excessive alcohol. While individual responses may vary, adopting an anti-inflammatory diet can provide a foundation for better gut health and may help manage symptoms in individuals with IBS.
“Helpful supplements for IBS-C include magnesium, ginger, vitamin D and slippery elm”
Herbal and Nutritional Supplements for IBS Symptoms
Here is a list of some helpful supplements which can soothe IBS symptoms:
- Magnesium citrate: magnesium citrate can help support regular bowel movements if you’re struggling with constipation-dominant IBS. Magnesium citrate works like an osmotic laxative, drawing water into the colon which helps to trigger a bowel movement.
- Peppermint Oil: Peppermint oil is known for its ability to relax the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, reducing spasms and cramping. It can help alleviate abdominal pain and bloating associated with IBS.
- Ginger: Ginger has anti-inflammatory and calming properties that can help soothe the digestive system. It may assist in reducing nausea, abdominal discomfort, and gas. Ginger is also a prokinetic which can help stimulate bowel movements, for those that suffer with constipation-dominant IBS.
- Slippery Elm: Slippery elm is a demulcent herb that forms a protective coating on the lining of the digestive tract. It can help soothe inflammation and provide relief from symptoms like heartburn, indigestion, and diarrhoea.
- Fennel: Fennel seeds have carminative properties, meaning they can help alleviate gas and bloating. They may also help relax the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract and reduce abdominal discomfort.
- Marshmallow extract: marshmallow extract, derived from the roots of the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis) has a soothing effect on the gut. When ingested, it forms a protective coating on the lining of the digestive tract, which can help alleviate inflammation, irritation, and discomfort associated with IBS. It can also soften stools, preventing constipation.
- Vitamin D: there is a high rate of vitamin D deficiency in those with IBS compared to healthy adults. Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to inflammation of the gut lining, intestinal hyperpermeability as mentioned above, and can alter the balance of bacteria living in the gut, contributing to gut dysbiosis.
“Helpful supplements for IBS-d include slippery elm, marshmallow, peppermint oil and probiotics”
The Role of Probiotics in Balancing Gut Flora
Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that promote a healthy gut microbiota, have shown promising benefits in managing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Research suggests that certain strains of probiotics can help restore microbial balance in the gut and alleviate IBS symptoms. The four strains of bacteria that have been found to be beneficial for IBS-D are the LAB4 probiotics: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus acidophilus CUL21, Bifidobacterium bifidum CUL20, and Bifidobacterium lactis CUL34. Probiotics work by modulating gut inflammation, improving intestinal barrier function, and influencing gut motility. They can help reduce bloating, abdominal pain, and irregular bowel habits commonly associated with IBS. Additionally, probiotics may have a positive impact on mood and mental well-being, as there is a strong gut-brain connection.
“Poor sleep can impair digestion, alter bowel movements and increase gut inflammation, contributing to food sensitivities and IBS symptoms”
Stress Management Techniques for IBS Relief
Relaxation techniques for IBS:
There is a well-established connection between stress and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many individuals with IBS find that their symptoms worsen or become more frequent during times of stress or emotional upheaval. Stress can impact the digestive system, leading to changes in gut motility, increased sensitivity to pain, and heightened inflammation. Moreover, the brain and the gut communicate bidirectionally through the gut-brain axis, meaning that psychological stress can influence gut function and vice versa. Understanding and managing stress levels can play a crucial role in reducing IBS symptoms and improving overall well-being for those living with the condition. Include relaxation techniques into your daily routine to counteract stress and calm the nervous system, such as walking in nature, yoga, deep breathing exercises and mindfulness.
Exercise for IBS:
Exercise can be a beneficial tool in managing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and improving its symptoms. Regular physical activity has been shown to promote better digestive health and alleviate IBS symptoms. Exercise helps stimulate normal bowel function by enhancing gut motility and reducing symptoms such as bloating and constipation. Additionally, it can help reduce stress levels, which is known to be a trigger for IBS symptoms. Engaging in moderate-intensity aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking or cycling, for at least 30 minutes a day can have a positive impact on IBS. However, it’s important to listen to your body and choose activities that are comfortable and enjoyable for you. Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen.
The importance of sleep for IBS:
Adequate sleep plays a vital role in improving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and overall well-being. Quality sleep allows the body to restore and heal, positively impacting gut health. Lack of sleep or poor sleep patterns can disrupt the digestive system, leading to increased sensitivity and inflammation in individuals with IBS. Additionally, sleep deprivation can contribute to heightened stress levels, which can trigger or exacerbate IBS symptoms. By prioritizing sufficient and restful sleep, individuals with IBS can help regulate their digestive system, reduce inflammation, and manage stress, ultimately leading to improved symptom control and a better quality of life.
“A holistic approach to IBS considers the interconnectedness of your symptoms and takes into account your current diet, nutritional imbalances and health history as well as emotional and lifestyle factors.”
Working with a holistic nutritionist for IBS
It can be very beneficial to work with a holistic nutritionist or registered nutritional therapist to address your IBS. A holistic approach to IBS considers the interconnectedness of your symptoms and takes into account your current diet, nutritional imbalances, health history, emotional and lifestyle factors. A personalized nutrition programme can be created to address an individual’s underlying cause for IBS which includes recommending specific foods and supplements tailored to their needs.
There are many different approaches to take with natural remedies for IBS: dietary changes including elimination diet, low FODMAP diet, anti-inflammatory diet, supplements including probiotics, soothing herbs and nutrients, and lifestyle modifications such as movement, stress management and relaxation and sleep. A different combination of approaches may work for different people, as everyone’s root cause of IBS is different.
Where to start with trialling natural remedies for IBS?
“My recommendation in the first instance is to adopt an elimination diet and address the lifestyle aspects first: sleep, stress reduction/management and movement”
My recommendation is to adopt an elimination diet and address the lifestyle aspects first: sleep, stress reduction/management and movement! Doing these things will help to reduce inflammation, support healthier gut bacteria and improve bowel motility. Working with a registered holistic nutritionist specializing in IBS and gut health in this area is helpful when implementing an elimination diet safely and getting to the root cause of your IBS. A practitioner can also order functional tests such as stool tests, a SIBO breath test, food intolerance tests and other tests that can help to work out the specific cause of your IBS. Get in touch if you have any questions!