IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints.
I would say that at least 70% of Patients that I see have digestive symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, gas or flatulence with bouts of constipation swinging to loose bowel movements.
Some people arrive at my clinic with these symptoms as their primary reason for seeking treatment with Herbal Medicine, and for other people its one of those things that they have lived with for years that we uncover during the initial health screen/consultation.
It is generally accepted that there are many contributing factors to IBS although the exact cause is said to be unknown.
One of the most important issues to rectify is diet, if you are eating a diet high in processed foods, refined grains and high sugar then over time your digestion will begin to suffer.
This coupled with ‘eating on the go’ and a busy stress filled life is ( pardon the pun) a recipe for disaster.
Simple steps you can take yourself is to ensure that you sit down to eat, chew your food properly – we all know that digestion begins in the mouth.
Eat small amounts, often. This keeps your blood sugar levels regular and helps with controlling your stress levels. The link between Food and Mood is huge and IBS sufferers always tell me their symptoms are worse with stress.
This is not a surprise as the nervous system and the digestive system are very linked, there are probably more nerves in the digestive tract than anywhere else in the body.
It is not a surprise then to learn that many herbs that help digestion are also relaxing and supportive to the Nervous System; common ones such as German Chamomile and Lemon Balm, even Valerian which many of you may know as a herb for anxiety and insomnia is actually a wonderful relaxant to the smooth muscle of the digestive system and very helpful for the painful spasm which accompanies IBS.
Herbal Medicine treatment is always holistic, but there are a few key areas that I generally find consistent in each case of IBS that I treat.
One of them is an imbalance in the bowel flora or the friendly bacteria in the gut – known as a Dysbiosis.
Even a small imbalance can give symptoms such as bloating, wind and flatulence.
This can be helped with a Probiotic. I use a high strength 5 strain product which actually re-balances the flora.
Please do not be tempted to purchase so called ‘Probiotic’ Yogurt drinks, they are expensive and contain lots of sugar and worse, often Aspartame.
I usually find that giving soothing antispasmodic herbs which help the process of digestion, together with gentle liver supportive herbs and other herbs that are specifically indicated for the individual person, as well as a Probiotic supplement quickly improve digestion and the symptoms of IBS.
Sometimes Food Intolerance is part of the contributing problem, especially if the bowel flora imbalance is severe.
If the response to the Herbs is not as I would expect then I may suggest that we test to see if Food Intolerance is indicated.
I can also offer a Stool Test which looks at the levels of the most common bowel bacteria ( flora) to see if the unhelpful ones are high in numbers or if the beneficial ones such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium are low in numbers.