IBS is a really annoying diagnosis for both patients and doctors. It’s what doctors label people who have gut symptoms but for whom no diagnosis is found. It does not mean nothing is wrong with them. Frustratingly, it really means we don’t know what to do about it; all the more shocking given that up to 30% of people suffer from it]. Unsurprisingly, over half of patients look to alternative therapies as IBS remedies which can have huge implications for daily life.
This is not the kind of condition with a specific cause and therefore an obvious drug target. Instead, it is caused by a multitude of mechanisms as summarised in the diagram below. In lay terms, the theories for what underlies IBS include: alterations in the brain and nervous system and how it communicates with the gut; derangements in the immune system, particularly the lymphoid tissue in the gut itself; and alterations to gut activity, the gut lining and the gut microbiome. Interestingly enough, there are good reasons to think that our lifestyles, i.e. how we eat, move, think, sleep and relate, would have an impact on each of these factors. Not only does this make intuitive sense but there is growing research to back it up that continues to add to our understanding of how IBS remedies may work.
IBS actually encompasses a wide range of conditions and symptoms: some people have constipation, some have diarrhoea, some have gut bacterial overgrowth, etc. So the root causes for an individual really need to be identified and addressed. Enter, functional medicine. But in the mean time, here are 8 IBS remedies and how they address the root causes of IBS described above:
- Fibre - particularly soluble fibre can help, especially for constipation. Eat your veggies and consider a supplement like psyllium if need be
- Diets such as low FODMAP, elimination and paleo - the FODMAP diet has the most evidence, while the elimination and paleo diets will help you identify and limit trigger foods
- Fasting - not as much evidence here but it stands to reason that an overworked gut may need a break from time to time to recover
- Pro- or prebiotics - to add beneficial bacteria which can improve bloating and immunity; supplement or eat more fermented foods, apple, asparagus and artichokes
- Peppermint oil - often used in conventional medicine as it prevents gut spasms; an alternative would be mint tea
- Ginger - mostly seen as an anti-inflammatory but also helps with gut spasms and serotonin signalling
- Exercise - helps the body to better manage stress in the nervous system and therefore it’s impact on the gut
- CBT, hypnotherapy and relaxation - stress is very much linked to IBS; any approaches to actively manage stress can help
Obviously as nebulous as IBS can be, these approaches will not work for everyone but they are safe. If these are not working it would be worth seeking a professional to see what your root causes are. Feel free to message me on Facebook.