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Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome Safely, Naturally

The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, can be quite uncomfortable, but there are ways to take back control. Read on to learn more about natural therapies for managing IBS.

[Editor's Note: This post is an abbreviated version of Irritable Bowel: How to Finally Gain Lasting Relief]

It’s estimated 10 to 20 percent of the United States' population may have irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS for short. IBS accounts for a huge number of referrals from primary care to gastroenterologist specialists, which means at least three to four million physician visits per year occur related to IBS symptoms. It’s a big problem and if you suffer from IBS, you're not alone. The problem is at least twice that many people just accept their symptoms as normal bowel function and don’t get medical attention until the symptoms are at least moderate if not severe.

IBS can strike at any time but often it starts becoming a noticeable problem between ages 35 and 50, more often in women than men. It isn’t technically called a disease and the symptom combination is known as a syndrome. The problem is many medications for IBS aren't all that safe and do lead to some harsh side effects. Is there a way to safely manage IBS symptoms? How do you go on with your every day life without having to worry about these symptoms? Who do you listen to?

The good news is there are some effective means that can help you to relieve the pain and discomfort you face due to IBS.

What is IBS? 
IBS has also been known as spastic colon. In this condition, individuals will experience pain in their abdomen combined with diarrhea or constipation, or both, and many other symptoms. The pain is due to a disorder of the function of your bowel muscles that normally quietly contract and push digested food forward in your intestines.

Considering Fiber
When it comes to IBS, many individuals need to carefully manage their fiber intake. Too much fiber leads to diarrhea whereas not enough can cause constipation. What do you need exactly? The main thing is to get enough fiber, but the trick is in balancing soluble and insoluble fiber to give you the benefits overall but avoid the problems that can occur with insoluble fiber.

The best thing to start with is to consume a variety of different types of fiber. You should consume fiber from fruits, whole grains and from vegetables. The best way to actually get your fiber and benefit from nutrients is through these natural resources, but this is insoluble fiber which can stimulate your intestine and cause pain symptoms. The easiest way to add soluble fiber to your diet is through supplementation. As far as fiber is concerned, try to work up to a total of 20 to 30 g per day.

Complementary Therapies
You’ll want to consider complementary therapies when looking for alternatives to the medications for IBS. As the word implies, complementary treatments are meant to be taken with other medications or other changes in your lifestyle. Since they're taken in addition to medications, the idea is the end holistic result may be better. For example, a mainstream treatment may be ongoing for a condition but the complementary treatment to help with pain or nausea may also be ongoing at the same time.

Complementary treatments allow you to be treated as a whole person rather than treating only the symptoms you're experiencing. There are many people that don’t agree with what their doctors say or just don’t like the approach that is being taken. In many ways, using complementary treatments allows you to stay in control of your own treatment.

Now, let’s break down the various types of complementary therapies that you can consider for treatment of IBS. 

Herbal Therapy
There are many herbals and supplements that have been touted to help IBS symptoms. The ones that have some science to back them up are as follows:

  • Ginger -- For those with IBS, a treatment can be to use ginger extract. A few drops of this consumed daily can help by providing anti-inflammatory conditions as well as improving the quality of the lining of your gastric system and helping the intestines to do their job.
  • Peppermint Oil -- It can help decrease the amount of muscle spasms your GI tract undergoes. In addition, peppermint oil can help with the other common symptoms of IBS such as bloating and pain in the abdomen. Add a few drops of peppermint oil to your drink and you’ll be set.
  • Artichoke Leaf Extract -- Artichoke leaf extract has been suggested for treating constipation dominant IBS. It’s long been used for acid indigestion and has shown some improvements in the secretion of bile by the sufferer. It also helps reduce bowel wall spasms and thus reducing pain.
  • Tannins -- In diarrhea dominant IBS, tannins may play a role by forming a protective coating on the inner lining of the intestine, called the mucosa. Tannins are found in red wine and some teas. Either in excess isn't a good thing as it may make the symptoms worse.
  • Probiotics -- Probiotics can be helpful in treating IBS as well. They work by altering the intestinal flora, or bacteria normally present in your bowel. Probiotics are organisms that can help balance the "good bacteria" within the intestines.
  • Prebiotics -- Whereas probiotics are the actual bacteria, pre-biotics are simple sugars that help normal intestinal bacteria to flourish. The most common prebiotics are inulin (not insulin) and fructo-oligosaccharides.

Movement Therapy
Movement therapy refers to a broad group of Eastern and Western origin approaches to improve mental well-being, physical health and emotional stability. These include yoga and tai chi. If you have a partner trained in the art of reiki or can afford to get sessions in that art, this is also part of this group.

Engaging in movement therapy can be helpful in several ways. The movements of the body can help relieve conditions such as pain in the abdomen, bloating, gas and diarrhea. But, doing movement therapy has its benefits in other regards as well. For example, yoga can be beneficial not only to IBS but to improving the body’s overall health and helping with maintaining the right weight.

Mind-Body Therapy
There is a connection to your emotional state and the IBS symptoms you're experiencing. With the help of mind-body therapies, you can actually improve your overall well-being and reduce the severity of IBS symptoms.

Meditation is one of those types of activities. Meditation allows your body to relax and allows your mind to be put at ease. These things are imperative when it comes to fighting IBS. Another type of mind-body therapy that has proven to be quite beneficial is that of hypnotherapy. During the hypnosis, the individual will experience and learn how to achieve progressive relaxation. This uses soothing images as well as sensations to help with IBS symptoms. Lastly, biofeedback is another mind-body methodology. Using this approach, you learn how to modify your response to stress, emotion, pain and the like.

Acupuncture and Acupressure
For thousands of years, acupuncture has been used to help in healing all types of medical conditions. It works on the theory there are channels of energy called meridians. Energy is called Qi. These channels course through the entire body. On these meridians there are 360 different acupuncture points. When you're healthy, the energy flows through the body easily through the channels. When you're ill, the energy flow is somehow disrupted. This is what causes symptoms like those you face with IBS.

Acupuncture is then used at specific locations around your body to help release energy and then bring back the flow of the energy throughout the body. It can help with pain and any nausea you're experiencing as well as related symptoms such as headaches.

Takeaway Points
The important point behind all of the above is there are very specific natural strategies you can implement when fighting this very difficult and ill-defined syndrome. Standard Western medical therapies may be limited because it's difficult to treat different but related symptoms with a pill. Syndromes are simply not made for a medication approach to therapy. Syndromes are better controlled and eliminated by a combined strategy which is the definition of a natural integrative approach.


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