There never is an ideal time to talk about bowels, but with so many of us suffering problems with our gut it is not a topic to be ignored! As many of my clients know, I have a healthy interest in their bowel movements (not quite as extreme as Gillian McKeith, you’ll be relieved to hear!), as they are a great indicator of both physical and emotional health.
If you are suffering with frequent bouts of constipation maybe alternating with diarrhoea, you feel sluggish, bloated and gassy after certain foods or you’re getting spasmodic abdominal pains, these could all be a sign that you are suffering with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
So what is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common functional disorder of the gut. (The gut includes the bowels.) A functional disorder means there is a problem with the function of a part of the body, but there is no abnormality in the structure. So, in IBS, the function of the gut is upset, but all parts of the gut look normal, even when looked at under a microscope. IBS causes various symptoms (listed below). Up to 1 in 5 people in the UK develops IBS at some stage in their life. IBS can affect anyone at any age, but it commonly first develops in young adults and teenagers. IBS is twice as common in women as in men.
What are the symptoms of IBS?
- Pain and discomfort may occur in different parts of the abdomen. Pain usually comes and goes. The length of each bout of pain can vary greatly. The pain often eases when you pass stools or wind. Many people with IBS describe the pain as a spasm or colic.
- Bloating and swelling of your abdomen may develop from time to time. You may pass more wind than usual.
- Stools (sometimes called motions or faeces) can vary:
– Some people have bouts of diarrhoea, and some have bouts of constipation.
– Some people have bouts of diarrhoea that alternate with bouts of constipation.
– Sometimes the stools become small and pellet-like. Sometimes the stools become watery or ribbony. At times, mucus may be mixed with the stools.
– You may have a feeling of not emptying your rectum after going to the toilet.
– Some people have urgency, which means you have to get to the loo quickly. A morning rush is common. That is, you feel an urgent need to go to the toilet several times shortly after getting up. This is often during and after breakfast.
– Other symptoms sometimes occur and include: nausea (feeling sick), headache, belching, poor appetite, tiredness, backache and muscular pains, feeling quickly full after eating, heartburn, and bladder symptoms.
Why do I have IBS?
IBS can be caused by a number of factors; here are a few possible causes:
Liver: Your liver may be sluggish and overloaded with toxins, leading to a sluggish bowel.
Dairy products: In Chinese medicine dairy is said to cause damp and brings coldness to the body which in turns weakens the spleen potentially leading to bowel problems.
Foods: For some people there are certain trigger foods, which can bring on an attack. Most commonly these include wheat, gluten, dairy, sugar and strong spices.
Emotions: We all know the expression ‘butterflies in your stomach’, but there is some truth in suggesting that your gut and emotions are intrinsically linked. Constipation could be about ‘holding onto something’ whilst looser bowels could suggest a degree of anxiety and worry.
Hormone imbalance: Lots of women notice that their IBS symptoms are worst just before their periods. This may have to do with the pattern of hormonal fluctuation in the second half of the cycle: oestrogen is lower for several days, whereas progesterone is relatively high at the end of the cycle, then drops off suddenly just before the period. Progesterone in general slows gut motility, and lower-than-normal oestrogen levels have been identified in women with IBS. It’s possible that when the ratio between these two sex hormones is off, sluggish bowels could in turn worsen pelvic congestion, cramping, and abdominal distention.
What can I use to treat it naturally?
Dietary changes: People with IBS respond to dietary changes in different ways. There is nothing that’s certain to work for everyone. It is important to try to eat as healthily as possible, drink plenty of fluid and take plenty of exercise. Removing obvious trigger foods can also relieve symptoms but it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what might be exacerbating the symptoms.
Probiotics: Probiotics containing lactobacillus strains seem to be the most effective and a daily dose of 5-10 million organisms seems to be adequate if the product is going to help (more than 20 million organisms a day seems to have no additional benefit). Lactobacillus plantarum has been the subject of scientific trials in IBS and it has been shown to be effective in decreasing abdominal bloating.
Tea: Peppermint tea is known to have a relaxing effect on the gut and is ideal to drink after meals.
Aloe Vera Juice: A very popular remedy which helps soothe the gut lining and prevent spasms.
Homeopathy: I see a lot of clients with IBS symptoms, in fact it is something I have suffered with myself in the past and I found homeopathy incredibly helpful. Because all IBS symptoms are different it is best to see a qualified homeopath for a full, individualised consultation to address the cause and emotional factors that maybe exacerbating your condition. For a free 15-minute consultation to see if homeopathy is right for you, please contact me via email or telephone (details below).
Until next time, have a happy, healthy week!