There is lots of information on the internet about Irritable Bowel Syndrome so this article will suggest some simple protocols on how to treat this condition from a Herbalist’s point of view.  Firstly though, a recap of factors to be looked at with this condition.

Symptoms of IBS may include – Bloating, excessive gas, pain in lower Gut relieved by passing wind,  Alternating constipation or Diarrhea, indigestion, nausea, and an urgent desire to defecate at times.  One does not need to have all of these symptoms for IBS,  but if one has one or two and they are persistent over time then IBS will be suspected.

IBS is a dysregulated GUT – the Digestive function has been compromised over some time and now has reached a critical point of dysfunction

Contributing factors include -stress,  food allergies, food sensitivity,   poor digestive function, lack of enzymes/ irritated vagus nerve / dysregulated immune system, body toxicity, emotional issues, and dysregulated Gut flora.

 Some suggestions to keep things simple are as follows –

1. If acute, then follow a Fodmaps diet to settle things down. The Fodmaps diet is not meant to be followed for life but is useful to identify foods that can trigger Symptoms and or allergenic reactions. The fodmap diet should be followed until symptoms get better or settle as one is sorting out other methods to assist digestive function.

  1. Generally, diets should consist of cooked food -steamed or stews to allow easier digestion. Appropriate spices such as cardamom, fennel, Cumin, Dill, and coriander seed and ginger for example are good spices to aid digestive function provided one is not allergic or sensitive to them. Raw foods are ok if one has good digestion, but for those who have IBS raw should be kept to a minimum until symptoms get better. 
  2. Digestive enzymes should be taken especially for those over 55 years of age where digestive enzymes tend to decrease.  There are a lot out there on the market ranging from weak hydrochloric acid and pancreatic enzymes/vegetable enzymes etc. For wind or gas then pancreatic enzymes may offer something for the lower gut but for those who react to protein or have reflux then the betaine hydrochloric acid is worth trying. A good supplement may include pancreatic enzymes with digestive bitters such as Gentian for example. If trying enzymes do not mix and match different types. Stay with one type or brand for a week or so to see if there is an improvement. If no improvement then one can try others.
  3. Herbal Carminatives can offer a powerful but soothing way to treat IBS.  Combinations can include Meadowsweet or lemon Balm or peppermint or  Fennel etc. The classic Herbal carminative formula is, the Iberogast brand made by Flordis.  This formula demonstrates this approach by offering a combination of digestive bitters and carminatives.  If bloating or gas is your problem then I suggest look at  Charcoal tablets or Mint tablets. These are good for symptomatic relief but one needs to look at supplements that can improve overall digestive function upstream and that contain Enzymes.
  4. Probiotics can be useful and there are many who suggest that they are critical for regulation of the GUT as they reduce the effects of Gut wall permeability that can give rise to GUT allergies. There are specific probiotic formulas that have been formulated for IBS. 
  5. One tip here! It is not recommended to try a lot of enzymes and probiotics together initially. Since IBS is a chronic condition one needs to know what is going to work. Try one supplement for one or two weeks before adding others. Since some have a sensitive GUT then trying too many remedies at once may make the situation worse! So if one wishes to change eating and a  trying probiotic then that is enough for a week or so evaluate the results. I would recommend Digestive enzymes first as getting the upper GUT to function better will assist the lowe GUt bowel flora.  Naturally if one has had anti-biotic therapy then it could be the other way around doing the probiotic first. Recent research shows that if one has recently had antibiotics then the GUT flora many take up to six months to get back to normal.    My first suggestion with many is to try food adjustments with Iberogast first to see how things go as other supplements can be added in later.
  6. For IBS, adjunctive therapies such as  Meditation or calming yoga or Yoga Nidra programs are specific and one of the most useful. Perhaps the best is yoga Nidra daily or a self-hypnosis program. Look on the internet for resources. Daily mind-calming will tone down the effects of the adrenal response on the Gut and lead to the more calming parasympathetic activity. This mode is for rest, recuperation and digestion –
  7. Another thing that can give rise to IBS symptoms is – grinding of teeth or Jaw misalignment problems. The Vagus nerve, that stimulates most of the digestive organs and bowels can become irritated. This tenth Cranial nerve goes through the face to the abdomen and is involved with Parasympathetic tone. So any jaw or face or neck issues can Inhibit the way this nerve works. Similarly, anyone with a dull backache may have Psoas muscle tightness that will affect this nerve from the other end of the body.  The Psoas flexes the hip and whose origin is the lower lumber so any tightness here can irritate spinal nerves and to the Vagus nerve. So to summarize if the above suggestions do not work and one has persistent. Jaw or back pain then those issues need to be addressed in the treatment of this condition.

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