Estimates are that worldwide, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects between 9-20 percent of the population, making it the most common gastrointestinal disorder. About 35 million Americans are thought to suffer from it.
IBS can affect both men and women, but it is more common in women. Treatments include change in diet, and sometimes medications in more serious or severe cases.
What about a raw food diet? Might it help relieve symptoms?
What is IBS?
According to the Mayo Clinic, IBS is a common disorder that affects the large intestine (colon). Sufferers experience cramping, abdominal pain, bloating and gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Unlike inflammatory bowel disease, however, which is a more serious condition, IBS does not cause permanent damage to the colon.
Doctors and scientists aren’t yet sure what causes IBS, but they believe it has something to do with the muscles that move food along through the system. Those with IBS may have contractions that are stronger and last longer than normal, pushing food through more quickly, which results in bloating, gas, and diarrhea. If the opposite occurs—food passage slows—than constipation may result.
Studies have also found that people with IBS may have abnormal serotonin levels (feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain and in the gut), or they may have a bacteria imbalance in the intestine.
Triggers & Diagnosis
People with IBS typically have “triggers” that bring about symptoms. These may include certain foods (like milk, alcohol, carbonated beverages, or chocolate), stress, and hormones (particularly for women during their menstrual period). Learning to modify these triggers can sometimes help ease IBS symptoms.
There are no blood tests or other tests that can help diagnose IBS, so a doctor typically matches your symptoms to a standard list of IBS symptoms, and if the two are close, you may be told you have it. The most important symptom is abdominal pain and discomfort lasting at least 12 weeks, though these weeks don’t have to occur consecutively. Other key signs are bloating or abdominal distension, straining or a feeling that you can’t empty your bowels completely, and a change in the frequency or consistency of stool.
Common Conventional Treatments
Treatment for IBS typically involves a period of trial and error. What works for one person may not work for another. Here are some common remedies:
- Fiber supplements
- Anti-diarrheal medications
- Eliminating high-gas foods (like carbonated beverages, raw fruits and vegetables)
- Anticholinergic medications (to relieve painful bowel spasms)
- Antidepressant medications (particularly if your symptoms involve depression)
- IBS-specific medications (including Lotronex and Amitiza)
These remedies may not work for you, however, or may provide only a temporary band-aid over an ongoing problem. They also tend to ignore the root cause of the issue, which may be stress, bacteria imbalances, or dietary issues (except for fiber supplements)—which is why natural remedies may be more effective.
Home and Natural Remedies
For you to feel substantially better, you may want to experiment with other lifestyle changes like the following:
- Eat more fiber. Instead of supplements, try incorporating more real fiber into your daily diet. Increase it gradually, as too much too soon can make IBS worse. Consume more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans.
- Chew longer. Digestion starts in the mouth, so the more chewing you do, the less work your digestive system has to do. Slow down and chew each mouthful 30-40 times.
- Eat smaller meals. Particularly if you have diarrhea, small, frequent meals may go easier on your tummy.
- Cut back on dairy. Some people are sensitive to dairy products, and feel better when they’re eating less.
- Drink more. Fluids help flush out your system and improve digestive function. Drink more water and tea, but avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, as these can stimulate your intestines and produce gas.
- Exercise. Regular exercise stimulates normal contractions of the intestines.
- Probiotics. In yogurt and dietary supplements, these may help ease symptoms, particularly if your IBS is caused by a lack of good bacteria. Some early studies have found that probiotics ease IBS symptoms.
- Yoga, massage, or meditation. These are all stress-relieving activities, which can help relax the muscles in your gut.
- Herbs. Peppermint is a natural antispasmodic that can relax smooth muscles in the intestines. Peppermint oil is widely used for IBS and may help eliminate gas and provide short-term relief. In fact, eight out of twelve studies found it was more effective than placebo at providing IBS relief.
- Acupuncture. Study results have been mixed, but some people find relief with acupuncture.
- Take more vitamin C and magnesium. Estimates are that many Americans are deficient in magnesium, which helps keep the digestive system operating smoothly. Vitamin C is a good immune booster. Especially if you suffer from constipation, try more of these two supplements. (About 2000 mg of vitamin C and 200 mg magnesium per day.)
- Try L-Glutamine. This amino acid has a reputation for being a good natural remedy for diarrhea. Mix ¼ tsp per day in water and drink on an empty stomach. Increase gradually until it works for you (up to 1 tsp 2-3 times a day.)
- Eat to fight inflammation. Including foods that naturally fight inflammation can help tame any flare-ups. Choose coconut oil, salmon and sardines, nuts, and cocoa. Add ginger and turmeric to your juices, teas, soups, and salads.
- Take digestive enzymes. Enzymes help break down the food we eat. You may be having digestive problems because your system is not breaking down your food very well. Digestive enzymes taken with each meal may help.
- Try more smoothies. They’re easier to digest, and you can pack them with fiber and other nutrients. Add raw rolled oats for an easily digestible fiber, and throw in some ground flaxseeds if you want a little more.
What About a Raw Food Diet?
Though some people may have symptoms after eating raw foods, it’s worth a try to consume more of them. Raw foods have plant enzymes that help in the digestive process, easing the burden on your intestines. They’re also rich in beneficial bacteria, some of which come from the soil in which they grow. Cooking kills of these beneficial microbes, leaving only the bad bacteria. Eating raw foods delivers more of the beneficial bacteria to your digestive system, helping keep it in balance.
A raw food diet also tends to be richer in fiber. Fiber can be hard to digest for people with IBS, but gradually increasing it may do more good than harm in the long run. The key here may be to go slow, increasing it bit by bit over the course of a month. Listen to your body, and don’t be afraid to try different types of fiber foods. If flaxseeds don’t work, for instance, try more oats.
Many people have great success changing over to a raw food diet. For some, it eases symptoms completely. For others, a more modified diet that includes some cooked foods works better. IBS varies from person to person, so try small changes in your diet to determine what’s best.
Have you eased your IBS symptoms with a raw food diet or other natural remedies? Please share your tips.
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“Irritable Bowel Syndrome Statistics,” ibseveryday.com, http://ibseveryday.com/2009/12/irritable-bowel-syndrome-statistics/.