Five million Canadians suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and it is one of the most common reasons for missing school or work.
Symptoms of IBS include chronic bloating, gas, abdominal pain/cramping, constipation, diarrhea or both. IBS can present similar to other more serious conditions, which is why it is important to see a naturopathic doctor for a proper diagnosis, rather than just picking up something at a health food store.
IBS may arise from a combination of several factors including long-term ingestion of food sensitivities, a diet high in processed foods, lack of exercise, a history of antibiotic use, and chronic anxiety and stress.
Recurring digestion problems can also negatively affect other parts of the body, which may lead to low energy, skin conditions, headaches, heartburn and stomach ulcers.
When treating IBS, I begin with a blood test to identify specific food sensitivities/intolerances, as they are distinct for each person. By eliminating food allergens causing inflammation, naturopathic treatments can then focus on repairing the immune and digestive systems.
With respect to Traditional Chinese Medicine, IBS is due to the energy/Qi not flowing properly in the spleen, which is also the organ that holds onto worry. I often use acupuncture to strengthen the digestive system and release anxiety by moving Qi back to the spleen.
Other modalities I may use when treating IBS include psychology/counseling, botanical medicine and homeopathy to decrease anxiety. People with IBS tend to be more sensitive to stress, which in turn decreases the immune system.
General dietary advice I recommend includes eating 30g of daily fiber to help form proper stool and improve the overall health in the GI tract. Choose wholesome foods such as oat bran, barley, peas, lima beans, lentils, organic berries, almonds, flax seeds, squash, cauliflower, apples and dried figs. Also, limit caffeinated beverages as they act as a GI tract irritant, not to mention dehydrate the body, and don’t forget to drink eight cups of water throughout the day.
Chew food slowly in a relaxed atmosphere, not while driving your car or working on the computer at your desk. Drink water before and after meals, rather than with food to help improve digestion. Saliva contains digestive enzymes to aid in breaking down food so that nutrients are more easily absorbed. If larger particles of food reach the intestines, bacteria will break it down and worsen IBS symptoms.
Make a decision to take things one-step at a time. Use lists to organize your day and keep tract of your goals. Learning to relax can make a huge difference in minimizing symptoms of IBS.