Uncomfortable and inconvenient are two words that best describe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but there is so much more. Irritable bowel syndrome is a very common condition that affects the colon and causes cramping, pain in the abdomen, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. There is no cure for irritable bowel syndrome but it can normally be managed.
While these symptoms are unpleasant, irritable bowel syndrome doesn’t cause a change in the bowel tissue or increase risk of cancer like inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. In fact, not everyone with irritable bowel syndrome exhibits symptoms at all. Others can manage the effects of the condition through diet and lifestyle changes. In more severe cases patients may need medication.
If you’re dealing with irritable bowel syndrome and your doctor has suggested making changes in your behavior and eating habits to control the condition, you may want to start with some home remedies to see if they work.
1. Make friends with fiber
Fiber can be both the best friend and worst enemy for someone with irritable bowel syndrome. It can help with constipation but it can also cause painful gas and bloating. However, you may find that different levels or methods of fiber might work best. Eating foods with lots of fiber might be better than taking a fiber supplement or vice versa. Unfortunately, the only way to really know how fiber will affect you is to experiment with it. As you learn what works and doesn’t you might have brief periods of discomfort but it will only be temporary.
2. Learn what foods to avoid
Yes, this involves even more experimentation but it will be worth it in the long run. Start a food diary and track everything you eat and whether or not it causes your IBS discomfort. This will help you determine which foods are worse for your system and what actually makes you feel better. For instance, you may find that wheat is a big problem for you so you can begin to avoid it. Other foods that cause problems for irritable bowel syndrome patients include alcohol, chocolate, caffeine, beans and broccoli that cause gas, or fatty foods.
3. Have regular meal times
It is important that your body has a regular schedule to help keep your irritable bowel syndrome from flaring up. Don’t skip meals and try to eat at the same time every day. Also, pay attention to what your body is telling you. For instance, if your main problem is diarrhea you may find that eating several small meals throughout the day can help keep things on track. If you suffer from constipation, larger meals with a high fiber content might be better for you.
4. Drink water
Fluids are very necessary especially if one of your primary symptoms is diarrhea. It can cause your body to lose more water than normal so they need replenishing. Water is the best choice but you could add some juices or sports drinks. Definitely avoid anything with caffeine as this can actually stimulate your intestines and make symptoms worse. Carbonated beverages will increase the likelihood of uncomfortable gas. Alcohol can also cause problems for someone dealing with the effects of irritable bowel syndrome.
5. Be careful with dairy
For many people, lactose intolerance and irritable bowel syndrome go hand in hand. If you find that your body has a hard time digesting milk you should avoid it or take precautions while consuming it. For example, yogurt might be an alternative that works well for your body rather than straight milk. Smaller amounts of dairy at a time may also be helpful. If you do find that you can no longer consume dairy at all be sure that you are eating enough other foods with the essential vitamins and minerals that you were getting from milk or other dairy products. These include calcium, protein, and several vitamins.
6. Exercise regularly
Moving your body helps move your digestive system. If you’re not someone who enjoys regular exercise start adding workouts to your routine slowly. A walk around the block can help kick start the right reactions in your gut. Exercise has plenty of other benefits as well. It can help stem depression and stress and make you feel better overall. If you can, exercise outside to help yourself feel better. Start slow and work your way up as you get used to the new physical activity.
7. Take a probiotic
Your digestive system is already populated by a variety of bacteria that help your body process food. If these bacteria become out of balance it can cause digestive problems, including the discomfort of irritable bowel syndrome. Probiotics are the helpful bacteria. If you’re having problems with your bowel it may help to add them to your diet or as a supplement to your daily routine. Yogurt and fermented foods, such as kimchi, are a great natural source of probiotics.
Seek medical attention if your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms don’t get better
If, after you alter your lifestyle, you are still experiencing discomfort from the condition it is important that you consult your doctor and talk about possible treatments beyond these changes. Some patients do not find relief in these natural ways and need to rely on medications to help them. Avoiding medical intervention is desirable, but no one should live with discomfort if it can be treated. Talk to your doctor about the things you’re already doing and how you can improve your condition.
Do you struggle with irritable bowel syndrome? What treatments have worked best for you?
Image by Holly Lay via Flickr