This article highlights the cause of IBS, 5 warning signs that you have it, and how you can manage and even prevent its symptoms using natural remedies.
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a gastrointestinal disorder affecting the large intestine, resulting in symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort. IBS affects approximately 10-15% of adults, making it one of the most common GI conditions. Although not life-threatening, the symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable if they’re not treated.
IBS is characterized by abnormal bowel movements: There are three types:
- IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
- IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
- IBS with mixed bowel habits (IBS-M)
What Causes IBS?
While the exact cause of IBS isn’t known, certain factors appear to play a role. They include:
Early Life Stress. Stressful events, especially in childhood, tend to trigger symptoms of IBS.
Intestinal Contractions. Layers of muscles line the intestines, and they contract as they move food through the digestive tract. Stronger or longer contractions can cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Having weak intestinal contractions can slow down food passage and contribute to hard and dry stools.
Nervous System Abnormalities. When your abdomen stretches (e.g., from gas), abnormalities in the nerves in your digestive system may cause you to feel greater discomfort. A lack of coordination between the brain and the intestines can cause your body to overreact to normal changes in digestion, resulting in pain, diarrhea, or constipation.
Microbe Changes in the Gut. Changes in bacteria, fungi and viruses, which normally reside in the intestines and play an important role in health. There is evidence that the microbes in people with IBS differ from those in healthy individuals.
Serious Infection. The symptoms of IBS can develop after a severe case of diarrhea (gastroenteritis) caused by bacteria or viruses. They may also be caused by an excess of bacteria in the intestines (bacterial overgrowth).
According to the Mayo Clinic, certain individuals may be predisposed to developing IBS. It’s more common in women, those under the age of 50, and those with a family history of IBS. Having a history of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse may also be a risk factor.
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5 Warning Signs You Have IBS
Regardless of the source, there are 5 symptoms that characterize IBS. They are summarized and explained below.
- Abdominal pain
- Bloating and gas
Related: How Healthy is Your Poop?
People who occasionally experience one or more of these symptoms do not necessarily have IBS. A diagnosis of IBS requires three months of symptoms of abdominal discomfort and a change in stool frequency or form in the previous six months. Your healthcare provider can help you make a determination based on the symptoms you report.
Preventing IBS Symptoms
Although it may not be possible to prevent developing IBS, you can take steps to prevent its symptoms from occurring or worsening. Depending on the individual, certain factors can aggravate the gastrointestinal system and trigger symptoms. Identifying and avoiding these triggers can reduce the impact of IBS on your quality of life.
True food allergies rarely cause IBS. However, many people with IBS experience worse symptoms after eating or drinking certain foods or beverages, such as wheat and dairy products.
If you suffer from IBS constipation, drinking plenty of water, increasing your fiber intake, and eating sorbitol-rich foods like plums and prune juice can reduce the risk of diet-related attacks. Sprinkling ground flaxseed on yogurt, cooked vegetables, and salads can also help control constipation.
If you have issues with IBS diarrhea, reduce your intake of insoluble fiber, carbonated drinks, and food and beverages with alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, fructose, or sorbitol. You should also avoid: fried foods, large meals, ‘gassy’ foods like beans, wheat germ, and Brussels sprouts. If you are lactose and/or gluten intolerant, avoid dairy and wheat products.
Focus instead on moderate amounts of soluble fiber and eating smaller portions during mealtimes.
Stress and Anxiety
IBS sufferers usually experience worse or more frequent symptoms during times of increased stress. Eating a well-balanced diet, getting regular exercise and sufficient sleep, and indulging in relaxing activities can help keep stress-induced symptoms under control.
When you know what can trigger your IBS symptoms you can make a plan to avoid them in the future. Therefore, you can keep constipation, diarrhea, belly pain, and bloating at a minimum.
Natural Remedies for IBS
Natural remedies can be effective in treating IBS – and you can easily and affordably get them from your local supermarket, health food store, or even your own backyard.
Individuals with sensitive digestive systems should ensure that the balance in their intestines is maintained. Probiotics can restore a balance in your gut that has been upset by stress, antibiotics, and poor eating habits. The result is a healthier gut, less abdominal discomfort, and better bowel function.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita L) is popular for its stomach settling properties and can be taken either as tea or capsule. Peppermint tea bags are available at the supermarkets and natural health food stores. Alternatively, you can crush a handful of fresh mint leaves into a cup of boiling water for a homemade tea. Try adding slices of lemon for a cleansing boost.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is similar to peppermint in that it has antispasmodic effects that can soothe your GI system. Most supermarkets sell ginger infusion tea bags, but you can also use a ginger root to brew your own. Grate half a teaspoon into a cup, add boiling water, and leave for 10 minutes. Then strain out the ginger pieces and enjoy!
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is becoming increasingly popular as a remedy for IBS symptoms due to its fermented properties. Mix apple cider vinegar with water and honey or add a few drops to herbal tea or fruit juice.
According to a review published in Current Opinion in Gastroenterology, psyllium supplementation can help treat diarrhea and constipation associated with IBS. Psyllium powder helps move your bowels if you’re constipated. When you have diarrhea, the powder gives you something to form a bowel movement around. To consume, mix one teaspoon of psyllium powder into your morning cereal or a glass of water.
Acupuncture has often been used to provide relief from constipation due to IBS. Inserting thin needles into acupuncture points along body pathways called meridians can bring energy flow into proper balance and get the bowels moving again.
If stress makes your IBS symptoms worse, behavioral therapy can help you learn to control your emotional response to difficult situations. Psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and relaxation therapy are all great choices. If you feel comfortable, you can also talk to family and close friends about your IBS and enlist their support in managing stress.
When you’re living with IBS, an integrated approach that combines multiple therapies often works best. By identifying which symptoms are giving you the most trouble, avoiding known triggers, and using natural remedies that work for you, you can prevent IBS from impacting your quality of life.