34 Home Remedies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

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by David J. Hufford, Ph.D

Like an unannounced visitor who stops by when you’re just about to go out, or the annoying caller who won’t let you off the phone, irritable bowel syndrome — also called spastic colon and mucous colitis or IBS — comes calling whenever and wherever it likes. In fact, as many as half the people who visit a doctor complaining of digestive problems probably have IBS.

As its name suggests, the symptoms of IBS are indeed irritating but can also be painful, as constipation hits one moment and diarrhea the next, sometimes coupled with bloating and cramping. What can be just as irritating is someone who tells you that “it’s all in your head.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a collection of symptoms that are caused by irritability and irregularity in the movement of both the small and the large intestines. IBS symptoms include:

  • diarrhea or constipation, or alternate bouts of each
  • abdominal pain or cramping
  • gas and bloating
  • nausea, especially after eating
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • depression or anxiety
  • mucus-covered stools
  • the urge to have another bowel movement after you’ve just had one.

The syndrome is usually influenced by emotions. Feelings of nervousness, anxiety, guilt, depression, frustration, or anger may bring on or aggravate this very common disorder. Coffee, raw fruits and vegetables, hormones, certain medications, and overuse of laxatives can promote it, as can an inability of the body to digest the natural sugar found in milk.

One in five Americans has irritable bowel syndrome, making it one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders. It occurs more often in women than in men, and it usually begins around age 20. You may actually suffer mild IBS symptoms for years before an acute attack sends you to the doctor for relief. The symptoms mimic those of more serious gastrointestinal, hormonal, and reproductive diseases and vary not only from person to person but in the same person from week to week. That makes diagnosis difficult and an effective treatment elusive.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Home Remedy Treatments for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

As we said, there is no cure for IBS. However, home remedies, like a good diet, can help keep irritable bowel syndrome under control. The following kinds of foods — and habits — may be contributing to your symptoms, so try to avoid them whenever possible.

  • Dairy products. Some IBS sufferers are also lactose intolerant, which means they can’t digest lactose, the sugar found naturally in milk and other dairy products. (Yogurt and hard cheeses don’t seem to cause any symptoms because their bacterial content converts much of the lactose to lactic acid before they’re consumed.) To find out if you are indeed lactose intolerant, a physician can do a simple breath test on you to check. If you are, lactase enzyme is available in tablet form and even in some food products to help alleviate the symptoms. Whole-milk dairy products also contain fat, which may be an irritant. Opt instead for products made with low fat or skim milk. ©2007 Publications International, Ltd.  As appealing as citrus fruits look, they are a no-no for those who suffer the painful effects of irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Citrus fruits. Of all the types of fruit, citrus varieties, such as oranges and tangerines, seem to be the most common offenders.
  • Gas producers. The last thing an IBS sufferer needs is more gas. Among the offenders: onions, beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, red and green peppers, and carbonated beverages. Many of these offenders are rich in nutrients, however, so experiment with smaller amounts or different cooking methods or try the gas-busting additive Beano before removing these foods from your diet.
  • Spicy foods. Forgo the spices in your dishes and see if that makes a difference.
  • Wheat products. Those who find that foods containing wheat are a problem should consult their physician as to how to maintain or increase their fiber intake without using wheat.
  • Sugar. Some IBS sufferers have what’s known as fructose intolerance and have difficulty digesting fructose (fruit sugar). Sucrose, or table sugar, may also trigger their symptoms.
  • Chocolate. It not only contains caffeine but high amounts of sugar and fat.
  • Caffeine. Found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, and even some medications, caffeine can stimulate the intestines and cause heartburn and cramping.
  • Alcohol. Alcohol can cause diarrhea.
  • Cigarettes. Smoking may have an effect on the motility, or movement, of the digestive system.
  • Fat. Fatty meats, butter, and oils are more difficult for the body to digest.
  • Sugarless gum and candy. Specifically, those made with sorbitol can aggravate IBS symptoms because the artificial sweetener is not digestible.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

More Home Remedies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Does IBS have you down and out? Try exercising moderately.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Does IBS have you down and out? Try exercising moderately.

Since there is no medical cure for irritable bowel syndrome, people who suffer from it can grow frustrated and despondent. This needn’t be the case, though. There are plenty of alternative home remedies to rein in IBS:. This is important in helping you and your doctor determine what the cause of your discomfort may be or what factors may aggravate it. For about two weeks, keep a record of what you’ve eaten, the kind of mood you’re in, the stress you’re experiencing, and how your stomach feels. (Women should also record the dates of their menstrual period, since some women suffer more acutely from IBS around the time of their period.)

By writing down your stresses, for instance, you may be able to pinpoint their causes and, as a result, take necessary action to change a stressful circumstance. And you may be able to cut back on or eliminate certain foods that appear to aggravate your symptoms.

Learn how to relax. Stress tends to exacerbate IBS. In fact, some sufferers have their most serious bouts of IBS soon after a stressful situation. The first step in learning how to relax is to simply be aware of when your muscles have tensed up, so you can undo that tension.

One technique for easing that tension is progressive muscle relaxation. One by one, you purposely tense, or tighten, and then relax each muscle group throughout the body. This allows you to become more aware of what your muscles feel like when they are tense and when they are relaxed.

While this technique can be helpful for some people, you should try different methods of relaxation and see what suits you best.

Be ready to roll with the punches. Too often, people see the world in black and white instead of shades of gray — they are perfectionists who are unwilling to compromise. This kind of attitude can have a negative effect on the digestive system. Indeed, people who have a healthy outlook on life may stay healthier and not suffer so severely from IBS. So IBS sufferers can help themselves by confronting and understanding their fears and concerns. A professional counselor may be of help.

Picture yourself in stress-free surroundings. Visualization is a relaxation technique that helps carry you away from your stress. Close your eyes and dream up a relaxing scene; focus on it in detail, noting the way things look, sound, smell, feel, and taste. You may find that relaxation tapes or tapes of soothing nature sounds or music can help you visualize relaxing scenes.

Exercise. Activity helps the digestive system work properly. Exercise can also aid IBS sufferers by distracting them from their symptoms and by promoting the release of endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones that help control pain. Opt for moderate exercise, because strenuous workouts may cause diarrhea. Long-distance runners, for instance, have been known to suffer from “the runs.”

Take a deep breath when stressed. This is the quickest, easiest way to release tension from your body when there’s no time for exercise or more-involved relaxation techniques. Breathe deeply and slowly, allowing your chest to rise and fall slowly and purposefully. Focus on the intake and outflow of your breath.

Eat more slowly. If you gobble down your food, you’re more likely to swallow air, which can travel through the digestive system in the form of intestinal gas. Chewing gum can also cause you to swallow air.

Eat several smaller meals. Large meals can overload the digestive system, causing cramping and diarrhea. Smaller, more frequent meals over the course of the day are easier for the body to handle.

Drink between meals. Drink liquids between meals instead of with them. Drinking when you eat dilutes digestive juices and frustrates digestion.

Try a hot bath. A hot bath may relieve stomach cramping. Or, apply hot compresses or a heating pad to your abdomen.

Watch your use of laxatives. Magnesium-based laxatives are relatively safe to use (except by those with kidney problems), although it’s still best to discuss them with your doctor before you try them, since some doctors prefer that their IBS patients skip laxatives altogether. Also, check labels and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully — overusing laxatives that contain stimulants can harm your intestines.

Set up a self-help group. Often, people with IBS feel as if they’re suffering alone. To help sufferers help themselves and each other, support groups have been created all over the country. If you’d like to start one in your area, here’s how to get information on setting up, publicizing, and managing a group: Write to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, P.O. Box 170864, Milwaukee, WI, 53217-8076; call 888-964 2001; or visit their Web site at www.aboutibs.org.

Read the next section to learn about home remedies for IBS symptoms that are right in your kitchen.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Irritable bowel syndrome can be treated by avoiding certain foods, by taking medications, and by making lifestyle changes. Home remedies from your kitchen are another way to treat IBS symptoms.

Home Remedies From the Cupboard

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Eating pears may help to relieve IBS symptoms.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Eating pears may help to relieve IBS symptoms.

Natural Home Remedies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Oat bran. Increasing fiber is a cure for almost every intestinal ill, and oat bran is especially good for IBS because it’s mild and usually colon-friendly. So use some every day: a bowl of oatmeal, oat bran bread, oatmeal cookies. But don’t expect immediate results. It may take up to a month to get any IBS relief.

Home Remedies from the Sink

Water. Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day is important, especially if you have diarrhea or are increasing your fiber intake.

Home Remedies From the Fridge

Cabbage. Juice of the cabbage soothes the symptoms of intestinal ills. To turn this veggie into juice, simply wash and put through a juicer or blender. If these are not available to you, cook the cabbage in a very small amount of water — just enough to keep it from scorching or burning — until very mushy. Then pulverize with a fork or mixer.

Carrots. These little gems help prevent the symptoms of IBS as well as regulate diarrhea and constipation. Eat them raw, by themselves or in salads, or eat them cooked — steamed and tossed with a little melted butter and brown sugar for a sweet treat. You can put raw carrots through the juicer, too. Since they’re not a juicy veggie to begin with, add a little pure apricot nectar when you make carrot juice. Any way you eat a carrot is fine, just don’t overcook them so much that you boil out all the goodness.

Lettuce. You can eat it raw to relieve symptoms of IBS, but it’s especially helpful if lightly steamed. And when you’re picking out your lettuce, go for the darker varieties. The darker the color, the more nutrients it contains.

Pears. Fresh, ripe, sweet pears are a nutritious fruit that also helps relieve the symptoms of IBS. Buy them when they’re still hard and let them ripen at room temperature for a few days. Pure pear juice and dried pears are also helpful in treating this intestinal woe.

Yogurt. Yogurt with active cultures will supply your digestive tract with the helpful kind of bacteria, which can ease IBS symptoms. You can also try mixing 1 cup yogurt with 1/2 teaspoon psyllium husks (or psyllium bulk you can buy in any pharmacy) and eating the mixture one hour after meals.

Home Remedies From the Spice Rack

Fennel seeds. These can relieve the intestinal spasms associated with IBS. They may also aid in the elimination of fats from the digestive system, inhibiting the over-production of mucus in the intestine, which is a symptom of the ailment. Steep the seeds into a tea by adding 1/2 teaspoon fennel to 1 cup boiling water. Or add them to veggies such as carrots or cabbage, both of which soothe IBS symptoms. You can also sprinkle the seeds on salads or roast them and snack on them after a meal to reduce the symptoms of IBS and freshen your breath. To roast, spritz a baking sheet with olive oil, then cover with fennel seeds. Bake at 325 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes.

Flaxseed. Make a tea using 1 teaspoon flaxseed per cup of water, and drink at bedtime for relief of symptoms.

Peppermint. Several studies have shown that peppermint can reduce IBS symptoms, particularly when cramping and diarrhea are major problems. These studies have primarily involved capsules of peppermint essential oil (0.2 mL menthol) and have found that 1 capsule taken with each meal offers the best results. Steeped into a nice, relaxing tea, dried peppermint can relieve intestinal spasms. Use 1 heaping teaspoon dried peppermint, and steep in 1 cup boiling water for ten minutes. Peppermint can exacerbate heartburn, but there are no other side effects.

Irritable bowel syndrome need not be a condition that prevents you from leading a normal life. If you learn to manage IBS and try these home remedies, you can remain both pain-free and carefree.

David J. Hufford, Ph.D., is university professor and chair of the Medical Humanities Department at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Medicine. He also is a professor in the departments of Neural and Behavioral Sciences and Family and Community Medicine. Dr. Hufford serves on the editorial boards of several journals, including Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine and Explore.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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