irritable bowel syndrome
irritable bowel


This article will suggest some simple protocols for treating 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 the 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 is persistent over time, 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 helpful to identify foods that can trigger Symptoms and or allergenic reactions. The fodmap diet should be followed until symptoms get better or settle as 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, coriander seed and ginger 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 with 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 after that age, it has been shown that digestive enzymes decrease.  There are many out there on the market ranging from weak hydrochloric acid and pancreatic enzymes/vegetable enzymes. For wind or gas, then pancreatic enzymes may offer something for the lower gut, but for those who react to protein or have reflux, 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 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 contain Enzymes.
  4. Probiotics can be helpful, and many suggest that they are critical for regulating the GUT. 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 can be 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, trying too many remedies at once may worsen the situation! So if one wishes to change eating and a  trying probiotic, that is enough for a week or so to 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, it could be the other way around doing the probiotic first. Recent research shows that if one has recently had anti-biotics, the GUT flora may take up to six months to get back to normal!   My first suggestion is to try food adjustments with Iberogast first to see how other supplements can be added 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 a more calming parasympathetic activity. This mode is for rest, recovery and digestion –
  7. Another thing that can give rise to IBS symptoms is – grinding of teeth or Jaw misalignment problems. The Vagus nerve, which 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 the 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 flex the hip and whose origin is the lower lumber, so any tightness here can irritate spinal nerves and the Vagus nerve. So to summarise, if the above suggestions do not work and one has persistence. Jaw or back pain, then those issues need to be addressed in the treatment of this condition.

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Peter Farnsworth N.D

revised 1/10/21