Nicola Parker, of Health and Herbs, writes about relieving IBS
Many people ask “What have you got for IBS?”
A simple question with a complex answer.
IBS is an official diagnosis but the range of symptoms it can cause are so varied, the term itself gives me very little information.
One persons IBS can be very different to another’s, so there is no single remedy that fits everyone.
There is no specific test for IBS and the actual cause unknown, though it’s thought to involve a combination of triggers and influences.
One of the frustrating things about receiving an IBS diagnosis is how little help seems to be available.
Management of IBS includes a multitude of techniques that your GP may not have the time to explain.
This is where your local herbalist is likely to be most helpful.
Classic symptoms of IBS include constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and bloating.
Pain in the tummy that feels like cramp or spasms can be due to stool or gas passing through the gut with difficulty, stretching the muscles of our gut painfully.
If your tummy bloats throughout the day, especially if this is triggered by eating, chances are that your discomfort is caused by gas. To manage this problematic gas, you can do a number of things.
Firstly, drinking herbal teas that are rich in volatile oils can help relax the muscles of the bowl, letting the gas pass through narrow spaces more easily.
Volatile oils are what give herbs their strong scents, so look for teas containing chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm, cinnamon and fennel.
For a stronger version, a herbalist or herbal shop may be able to provide you with capsules or liquids made from these herbs.
To get to the bottom of the problem, it is better to directly address the cause of this gas production.
Although this advice isn’t always passed on by our GP, NICE guidelines (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) suggest a four week course of probiotics.
Probiotics help to balance the bacteria in your gut and reduce the amount of gas being produced after eating.
It can take a few weeks for a probiotic to start having an effect, but once it does, many people report reduced instances of constipation, diarrhoea, gas, wind and bloating.
Since it can help with many symptoms at once, a probiotic is the closest thing to a ‘general’ remedy for IBS and it’s something I recommend to all my patients suffering with digestive issues.
Reducing gas and helping it to move through the body can go a long way towards easing abdominal discomfort but unless you’re emptying your bowel on a regular basis, you may find that addressing the gas isn’t enough. My last IBS patient came to me after receiving an over the counter recommendation from my colleague.
On a brief lunch break, they dashed in to speak with someone hoping for a quick fix recommendation.
Sadly, none of my colleagues work that way.
I work with experts, not sales people, so my colleague recommended a probiotic with lots of cinnamon tea for a couple of weeks and suggested that they come back if these general remedies hadn’t helped, ideally when they had time to answer a few more questions.
Sure enough, the probiotic helped a little but their IBS had too many influences to be resolved by a simple “cure all”.
When we sat down and spoke together, I discovered that this lady had a stressful lifestyle, a low fibre diet and was a self confessed coffee addict, all of which were contributing to chronic constipation.
Once we added in more fluid and fibre, swapped her cinnamon for stress herbs that work in the same way and began to strengthen her bowel muscles, her tummy began to visibly go down.
She was less gassy, less bloated and the IBS pain vanished completely.
While IBS can be a lifelong condition that can come and go, understanding how your bowel works is key to treating your symptoms accurately and keeping yourself pain free for as long as possible.
Don’t settle for quick fixes, get to know your body so that you can learn how to work with it.
q For more information on this subject or to book an appointment, call Nicola at Health and Herbs, Pedder Street, Morecambe, on 01524 413733.