IBS Sufferers Can Regain Their Quality of Life
Brenda Watson, N.D., C.T.
Six million Canadians suffer from IBS and it is second only to the common cold as the most frequent cause of absenteeism. It is characterized by abdominal pain and altered bowel function such as constipation, diarrhea, or alternating between the two. IBS is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that if a doctor can’t determine the cause of the symptom (i.e. colitis) a diagnosis of IBS is usually made.
Muscles in the bowel normally contract a few times a day resulting in a bowel movement. For those with IBS, these muscles contract more frequently because of a sensitivity to ‘triggers’ (certain foods, gas or stress). Food sensitivities are found in up to 1/3 of IBS sufferers. The most common allergens are dairy and wheat, while other triggers include coffee, tea, citrus, and chocolate. High sulphur foods such as broccoli and cabbage produce gas which can also trigger symptoms.
IBS symptoms (cramps and diarrhea) usually occur soon after eating, especially if the meal is large. Lack of fibre is also a contributing factor, as fibre is required to move food through the digestive tract. When food stays in the colon for long periods, it can ferment producing gas. As triggers can vary, it is important to discover which foods affect each IBS sufferer. This can be achieved by an elimination diet (suspected foods are removed for a period of time, to see if symptoms decrease).
As the cause of IBS is unknown, providing the intestines with the required nutrients for normal functioning is vital. The intestinal lining cells are replaced about two times weekly. Two nutrients are required to rebuild those cells; L-Glutamine and N-acetyl glucosamine. L-Glutamine has been shown to stimulate cell growth in the intestinal tract while N-acetyl glucosamine, is required for tissue repair.
Recent research has also shown a link between IBS and ‘bad’ intestinal bacteria. In 2003 peppermint oil was shown to improve IBS symptoms because of its antimicrobial activity. Supplementing with probiotics to balance intestinal bacteria may also be warranted.
For acute IBS attacks, anti-spasmodic herbs can be helpful. According to the Journal of American Medical Association, a combination of Chinese herbs has been found effective with IBS sufferers. Traditional anti-spasmodic herbs include chamomile, fennel, and peppermint. Soothing herbs such as fenugreek may also be helpful.
Although IBS is a serious problem, it is not life threatening. It can be managed by following these preventative steps:
- Rule out underlying causes (i.e. candida, parasites).
- Determine ‘trigger’ foods and avoid them.
- Eat 5-6 smaller meals per day.
- Increase fibre (flax is a good source).
- Drink plenty of purified water.
- Take probiotics, L-glutamine & N-acetyl-glucosamine.
By following the steps above, and using anti-spasmodic herbs during flair ups, IBS symptoms can be controlled, thereby regaining the quality of life for IBS sufferers.
Bensoussan, S. Talley, N.J., Hing, M., Menzies, R., Guo, A., Ngu, M. (1998). Treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with Chinese herbal medicine: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA, Nov 11:280(18), 1585-9.
Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. (2005). Irritable Bowel Syndrome. 25/27/2005.
Expanded Commission E Monographs, Therapeutic Guide To Herbal Medicine. American Botanical Council. 15/06/2005.
Freidman, G. (1991). Diet and the irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology Clinical North America Jun;20(2): 313-24.
Haas, Elson M.(1992). Staying Healthy with Nutrition The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkley: Celestial Arts.
Lipski, E. (1996). Digestive Wellness, Keats Publishing Inc. p. 55 & 238.
Logan, A.C., Beaulne, T.M. (2002). The treatment of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth with enteric-coated peppermint oil: a case report. Alternative Medical Review Feb;8(1): 3.
Miller, Alan L. (1999). Therapeutic Considerations of L-Glutamine: A Review of the Literature. Alternative Medical Review Aug;4(4):239-48.
Salvatore, S., Heuschkel, R., Tomlin, S., Davies, S.E., Edwards, S., Walker-Smith, J.A., French, I., Murch, S.H. (2000). A Pilot Study of N-Acetyl glucosamine, a nutritional substrate for glycosaminoglycan synthesis, in paediatric chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. Dec;14(12); 1567-79.
Health Disclaimer. Content provided by Renew Life. Copyright ©2007-2023. Brenda Watson, ND, CT. First published in January 2007, last updated in February 2023. Published with permission.