Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is a functional condition of the bowel. This means that the bowel does not function as it should but there is no physical damage to the bowel tissue. The muscles of the bowel go into spasm, which can cause pain with constipation or diarrhoea, which may alternate. Stress or certain foods or medications may trigger symptoms. Below are some remedies than can provide relief, alongside a careful diet. Sometimes a combination of treatments is necessary. Adequate water intake is important, as it is needed to form digestive juices and the protective mucus lining of the gut.
A good quality, high strength probiotic product can quickly and significantly reduce the symptoms of IBS and I have known customers who have had lasting relief within days. The best probiotics can be found in capsule or powder form rather than as a yogurt drink. A strength of 20 billion live microorganisms per capsule is ideal for quick results. The best quality probiotic brands, for example Solgar or Optibac, will say on the label that they survive the stomach acid.
Peppermint is antispasmodic, so it relieves the pain caused by muscle spasm in the gut and helps to release trapped wind, which also causes pain. It is available in various forms, including tea, oil, powder, tablets and capsules and of course as fresh leaf straight from the plant. The fresh leaf has a higher level of the beneficial volatile oils than in commercial teas, as the oils evaporate during drying. To minimise loss of oils use the fresh leaf straight after picking, store dried leaf or teabags in an airtight container and brew tea in a covered container to keep the oils from escaping with the steam. Unfortunately many “peppermint” cordials nowadays are made with artificial flavourings, rather than the natural peppermint needed to give the medicinal effect. When buying peppermint oil choose one that says it is intended for consumption rather than an essential oil for external use. Oils for internal use can be used externally but not vice versa. Peppermint oil is very strong so literally only one or two drops is needed per cup of warm water. Tablets and capsules come in various strengths. Some capsules are labelled “enteric coated”. This means they have a capsules shell that does not dissolve in the stomach but further down in the gut so that the oil is released where it is most needed.
Fennel seed is antispasmodic and is well known for relieving trapped wind. It is related to dill which is traditionally used in gripe water for colic in babies. It can be be taken as a tea, and also used in cooking. The tea can be combined with peppermint or chamomile for improved effect.
Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) and Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus)
Cramp bark may be difficult to obtain over the counter but it is worth hunting around for if other remedies have not brought relief. It is an excellent, fast acting remedy for muscle spasm in the smooth muscles of the gut. The womb is also made of smooth muscle, so it can be be used for period pain. It is relaxing as well as being antispasmodic, so is useful for IBS that is triggered by stress. Wild Yam is more commonly known as a hormonal remedy, but it is an excellent digestive remedy also. It is antispasmodic and relieves inflammation in the gut. This can also be used for period pain. Wild Yam and Cramp bark together make a good combination.