Some people call it a “nervous stomach.” Others just chalk it up to indigestion.
If you or someone you know lives with a persistent or frequent digestive disorder, you understand how digestive upsets can really disrupt day-to-day life. So many details of living are affected when someone has inconvenient, uncomfortable symptoms—from having to worry if a bathroom is close by, to fretting about what they can and can’t eat at a restaurant, to missing days of work and/or family events.. Could that be you? What can you do if the problem is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or similar conditions—and what natural options can you try?
Doesn’t it seem as though everyone has a form of IBS these days? In my office, a high percentage of patients come in with digestive discomfort, along with the hope of finding a solution. Sometimes they do just have indigestion, a temporary change in bowel habits, or some other short-term irregularity. However, in some cases, greater inflammation takes over and that requires more intervention and monitoring by a physician.
A difference exists between IBS, which seems like a “catch all” phrase these days for unexplained, common symptoms, and IBD (irritable bowel disease), which can be more disruptive to daily life. Stay tuned as we unpack ways you can begin to bring your body back into balance.
IBS affects the intestines and is characterized by uncomfortable symptoms that often appear together and are triggered by dietary factors, stress, and other lifestyle issues. More common in women than men, intestinal discomfort of this type will show signs that include recurring diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, and/or abdominal pain that have lasted for at least 6 months. You may experience some or all of these symptoms, and your version may be unique to you.
More severe and disruptive, IBD includes Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, and ulcerative colitis, an inflammation of the large intestine and rectum. Possible causes include autoimmune reactions in the gut, genetic predisposition, or an environmental factor. Accompanied by the same symptoms as IBS, IBD may often present with blood or mucus in the stool, loss of appetite, weight loss, pain, and nutritional deficiencies. Proper screening and monitoring are vital. In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, treatment may often include medication to reduce flare-ups and calm inflammation.
Take heart, digestive sufferers! Here are some possible natural ways to help manage and soothe your symptoms…
- Probably the most important step you can take is to monitor your diet carefully. Eliminating wheat, dairy, and sugar are good first moves, along with saying no to spicy or greasy, heavy foods, common allergens such as nuts and eggs, and alcohol. Slowing down your eating, being mindful and peaceful during mealtimes and noting any changes that occur after meals (even hours after) are good actionable steps. Also, take notes in a journal not only when your symptoms increase, but also when they decrease, so you can “rinse and repeat” successes.
- Taking the dietary component even further, let me ask if you’ve heard the term FODMAPs before? It stands for “fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols.” That’s a type of carbohydrate found in certain foods that can be difficult for some to digest. Studies show that about 75 percent of people with IBS benefit from adhering to a Low FODMAP plan, even with its demanding commitment—and the approach is also possibly beneficial for people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Consult your physician for advice about beginning this plan.
- Especially beneficial is exercise when dealing with any of the above disorders, as it helps lower stress. Cardio workouts, using weights, and yoga may well be important additions to your exercise routine and have been shown to help reduce symptoms and stress.
- Did I say lowering stress is helpful in healing IBS and IBD? While lowering stress is crucial for your overall health, it’s especially important in dealing with inflammatory digestive issues. We have more receptor sites for emotion in our gut than anywhere else in our bodies, so being upset, stressed, and not sleeping well affects our condition! Keeping your stress levels low is a priority, whether you try meditation, better sleep, planning more quiet time, listening to music, or any other approach that helps you relax.
- Finally time to try acupuncture? As an acupuncturist for over 20 years, I can attest to the fact that this ancient modality helps to restore a smooth flow to the body’s energy system, supports the immune system, soothes irritated digestion, and lowers stress levels, all while the patient is comfortable and relaxing.
- If your healthcare provider gives a thumbs-up, several supplements may offer beneficial results. These include digestive enzymes, aloe vera extract, L-glutamine, vitamin D, slippery elm, licorice, ginger, probiotics, and fish oils.
As always, talk to your doctor about your specific treatment decisions. And if you need help navigating through the challenges of IBS and digestive disorders, I’m available to support you in finding natural solutions. I can suggest alternatives for you to investigate, and as I’ve often reported, the combination of East and West treatments can be ideal.