Irritable bowel symptoms and constipation are both common problems often treated with drugs, but nutrition specialist Joseph Mercola, MD, explains some simple, basic alternatives to drugs that address underlying causes of these functional disorders.
This information is reproduced with kind permission from Dr. Mercola’s educational website (www.mercola.com), and was first published May 9 and April 11, 2009. See footnote* for links to much more.
Natural Remedies for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There are simple, basic, natural strategies you can use as an alternative to the drugs that are usually prescribed for IBS. The drugs treat only the symptoms, and do nothing to address the underlying causes.
Please understand that these suggestions are just a result of my clinical observations over the last 20 years, treating tens of thousands of patients, and reading tens of thousands of articles on natural medicine. They are not intended to be the final authoritative information on this subject.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that many people struggle with.
Statistics show that one in ten Americans display the symptoms of IBS, accounting for more than 2 million prescriptions and 35,000 hospitalizations each year. It is also the second highest cause of work absenteeism after the common cold.
Do You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
It’s important to realize that IBS is completely different from another condition that sounds very similar, namely inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Inflammatory bowel disease is an autoimmune disease that can have very serious consequences.
But irritable bowel syndrome, even though it can cause debilitating pain, is a functional bowel disorder. In other words, there are no significant physical conditions that contribute to the problem; hence it’s a functional disease.
So how do you know if you might be suffering from IBS?
Common signs and symptoms include frequent:
• Abdominal discomfort and/or pain
• Spastic colon (spastic contractions of the colon, interfering with passage of gut’s contents)
How to Address IBS Without Drugs
Fortunately, there are some simple, basic strategies you can use as an alternative to the drugs that are typically prescribed, such as antispasmodics and antidepressants. See “Why Take an Antidepressant to Treat IBS?” These drugs may help control the symptoms but do nothing to address the underlying cause.
Avoid all sources of gluten – The first step for any patient who comes to my clinic with this problem is to go on a gluten free diet. Most people understand this means avoiding all forms of wheat, but you also need to be aware that there are many other hidden sources of gluten in your diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, but it’s also found in other grains such as barley, rye, oats, and spelt. Typically, avoiding gluten for a week or two is enough to see significant improvement.
In addition to gluten, food allergies can also play a role, so be sensitive to that and start a trial and error process to determine which ones you have.
Get checked for parasites – Another comprehensive strategy, to make sure you’re not struggling with a physical condition that could be simulating IBS, is to have your stool checked for parasites. Some parasites, such as giardia, can sometimes be a contributing factor that needs to be treated. [Acute intestinal giardia infection from tainted water or food may last a few weeks, but in some individuals may enter a prolonged phase.]
Tailor your diet to your personal biochemistry – Naturally, you’ll want to pay close attention to your diet. Ideally, you’ll want to eat according to your nutritional type, as you have specific nutritional needs that are based on your personal biochemistry, metabolism, and genetic makeup.
• Some people thrive on low-carbohydrate, high-protein and high-fat diets. A typical ratio for a Carb Type might be 40% protein and 30% each of fats and carbohydrates, but the amounts could easily shift to 50% fats and as little as 10% carbohydrates depending on individual genetic requirements.
• Others require the converse: a high carb, low fat and low protein diet. (However, it’s important to realize that there is a major difference between vegetable carbs and grain carbs, even though they’re both referenced as “carbs.” Grains convert to sugar, which is not something anyone needs in their diet in high amounts.)
• Others fall somewhere in between these Protein and Carbohydrate types and can afford to be less strict with their ratios of carbs, fats and proteins.
Part of nutritional typing is also to pay attention to the quality of your food. You’ll want to consume high quality, unprocessed food. Remember, 90% of the money Americans spend on food is for processed foods. When you choose foods like this you’re bound to experience physical complications, and it’s no big surprise that one of those complications could be in your gut.
Boost healthy bacteria in your gut – It’s also important to make sure you have enough healthy bacteria in your gut [especially if you’ve taken antibiotics]. You can get healthy bacteria from fermented foods or a high quality supplement.
Now, once you lower the amounts of sugar and processed foods in your diet, you’re automatically creating a milieu that will support the growth of good bacteria and diminish growth of bad bacteria. But you can enhance that process further by eating fermented foods or taking a high quality probiotic.(1)
Take your fiber – Taking additional fiber can also be very helpful to control IBS symptoms such as constipation and diarrhea. Fiber such as psyllium tends to be particularly helpful, and is my personal favorite. I use it nearly every day.
Psyllium is adaptogenic fiber, meaning if you’re constipated it will soften your stool and help increase your bowel frequency, and if you have loose stools and frequent bowel movements, it will help with stool formation and decrease the frequency of bowel movements….
If you decide to use psyllium, make sure it is organic [and/or tested for purity], as nearly all the products out there are not, and the damage from the pesticide residue in most of the products far outweighs the benefit you would receive from the fiber itself. Metamucil is a classic non-organic psyllium.
Another good fiber is whole, organic flax seed. You can take a few tablespoons of freshly ground flax seed per day. Another benefit of flax is that it’s also a high quality source of plant-based omega-3 fats, particularly ALA, which nearly everyone needs on a regular basis.
Address emotional challenges – Last but certainly not least, I’ve found that many people with IBS have an unresolved emotional component that contributes to their physical problem. This is also one of the reasons why antidepressants are frequently prescribed. Meditation, prayer, and psychological techniques and tools like the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) are all strategies you can use to effectively address your emotional challenges.
If irritable bowel syndrome is a condition that you or someone in your family struggles with, following these tips and recommendations can help you, and your family, to take control of your health.
Natural Constipation Relief Strategies You Should Know About
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Newsletter (it's free!)
Regularity is important for your health – here’s how to achieve it without dangerous drugs. If you do suffer from constipation, one important factor to check is whether or not you have hypothyroidism.
Constipation is a very common problem, but fortunately is one that can usually be easily remedied with lifestyle changes. Ironically, one of the biggest hindrances to your success may be not realizing you’re constipated in the first place.
Conventional medicine typically defines constipation as fewer than two or three bowel movements a week. But you should really be having one bowel movement a day, and preferably two or three. So if you are having anything less than one bowel movement a day, you should take steps to relieve your constipation.
Regularity is so important for your health because without it, toxins accumulate and are recirculated in your bloodstream. Constipation can also increase your risk of hemorrhoids or fecal impaction, in which your stool must be removed manually.
Fortunately, although constipation is very common, it is also usually temporary and relatively easy to resolve.
What Causes Constipation?
One of the main causes of constipation is a poor diet – one that focuses on processed foods and sugar and lacks fresh vegetables that are good sources of fiber. Fiber helps move bulk through your intestines and promotes bowel movements.
Other common causes include:
• Laxative abuse – If you take laxatives over a long period of time, you can become dependent on them. First you may require higher dosages to have a bowel movement, and eventually your intestine can fail to work properly.
• Hypothyroidism – An underactive thyroid gland is a common cause of constipation
• Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), discussed above – This can cause spasms in your colon that slow the speed at which the contents of your intestine move through your digestive tract.
• Ignoring the urge to go – If you consistently ignore the urge to have a bowel movement, for instance to avoid using a public toilet, eventually you may stop feeling the urge.
[Note: Opioid-induced constipation is a unique situation. These pain drugs tend to slow down bowel activity, and special considerations may be involved. See “Constipation from Opioids.”]
Why Laxatives are NOT a Good Option
Americans spend three-quarters of a billion dollars every year on laxatives, according to the American Gastroenterological Association, which is not only a waste of money but a potentially harmful move.
One of the biggest risks of laxatives, especially stimulant laxatives, is that your body can become dependent on them for normal bowel function. When you stop using them, it takes a long time for the activity of your bowel to be restored.
This is true even of senna or cassia laxatives, which are frequently marketed as natural.
These laxatives, when used for a period of weeks or months, may even decrease your colon’s natural ability to contract, which will worsen constipation. Further, overuse of laxatives can damage nerves, muscles and tissues of your large intestine.
So if you absolutely must use a laxative, make sure it is only for a very short-term period. And remember that laxatives do absolutely nothing to address the underlying causes of your constipation. But fortunately the natural tips in the next section do.
Relieving Constipation Naturally
If staying regular is a struggle for you, here are my top recommendations:
1. Get checked for hypothyroidism, especially if you’re a woman over 40. Constipation is one of the hidden symptoms of hyopothyroidism [some others include reduced energy & heavy feeling, weight gain, dry skin and hair, hair loss, .and sensitivity to cold.]
2. Try squatting. This is the best, natural position to help expel stool from your colon and reduce your risk of hemorrhoids, and it’s still the way many people around the world go to the bathroom. In your home, you can get many of the same benefits by placing a stool near your toilet to raise your knees, purchasing a special squatting device to modify your toilet, or simply squatting on your own toilet.
3. Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods. Vegetables are phenomenal sources of fiber, and I suggest eating those that correspond with your nutritional type freely. (The average American consumes less than half the suggested amount of fiber daily!) For added fiber to help normalize your stool, try whole organic flaxseeds. Grind the seeds in a coffee grinder, then add a tablespoon or two to your food.
You can also try organic psyllium, which I personally use nearly every day. Psyllium is unique because it’s an adaptogenic fiber, which means it will help soften your stool if you’re constipated, or reduce frequency of your bowel movements if you have loose stools.
4. Exercise regularly [and drink plenty of water]. This helps stimulate circulation and intestinal function, causing your bowels to move properly.
5. Take a high-quality probiotic. This helps to balance the good and bad bacteria in your gut, which is essential for proper digestive function. Probiotics are also useful in fighting IBS, which can contribute to constipation.(1)
6. Aloe vera(2) and magnesium supplements can also be useful tools to speed up your bowel movements.
If you integrate this advice into your lifestyle, you should be able to virtually eliminate your risk of constipation and any reliance you had on laxatives. For one final tip, make sure you heed nature’s call. The longer you ignore the urge to have a bowel movement, the more water is absorbed from the stool. This makes it harder and ultimately can make it more difficult to stay regular.
– Joseph Mercola, MD, April 11, 2009
|Dr. Mercola is the founder of the world’s most visited natural health web site, Mercola.com. You can learn the hazardous side effects of OTC Remedies by getting a FREE copy of his latest special report The Dangers of Over the Counter Remedies by going to his Report Page.|
Note: This information (© 1997-2011 Dr. Joseph Mercola. All Rights Reserved) has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is general information, based on the research and opinions of Dr. Mercola unless otherwise noted, and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness, or disease. It is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is always very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.