If you’re looking for natural irritable bowel syndrome remedies to relieve the pain and discomfort caused by IBS, as well as strategies to help manage the frequency and intensity of your IBS flares in the future, we’ve pulled together our best tips and ideas to help. While these natural remedies won’t cure your IBS, they will help you better understand what causes your symptoms and what you can do to feel more in control from this point forward.
What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that affects the large intestine, causing abdominal pain, bloating, and alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation. IBS tends to occur more frequently in women than in men, and affects 25 to 45 million people in the United States alone (source). Unlike irritable bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, IBS doesn’t cause inflammation or ulceration in the bowel, and while it’s a much less serious condition, it can still have a tremendous impact on one’s quality of life.
What Are the Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are often experienced differently from person to person and include:
- Abdominal pain, which lessens after a bowel movement
- Gas and bloating
- Alternating bouts of diarrhea and constipation
People with irritable bowel syndrome may also experience symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Remember that only a medical professional can diagnose irritable bowel syndrome, and it’s important that you discuss your symptoms with your doctor to rule out other medical conditions.
What Causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
There is no known cause of irritable bowel syndrome, but research indicates one or a combination of the following may play a role in the development of the condition:
- Gut-brain interaction abnormalities. Some experts believe the symptoms of IBS are caused by oversensitive nerves between the gut and the brain. These abnormalities can cause food to pass too slowly through the digestive tract (and lead to constipation), or it can have the opposite effect and cause food to pass too quickly (resulting in diarrhea). If the signals between the gut and the brain aren’t working correctly, a person may experience these changes in digestion more severely in the form of abdominal cramping and pain.
- Gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines resulting from a bacterial or viral infection, can cause symptoms of IBS to develop.
- Gut flora imbalance. Our gut flora plays an important role in our overall health. An imbalance in our gut flora can have a negative impact on our immune systems, leading to inflammation and digestive disturbance (among other things). Gastroenteritis, antibiotic use, and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) can all cause an imbalance in gut flora, resulting in symptoms of IBS.
- Psychological factors. While irritable bowel syndrome is not a psychological disorder, research indicates that some people experience an increase in their IBS symptoms during times of stress and anxiety.
Is IBS the Same as IBD?
In short, no, irritable bowel syndrome is not the same as irritable bowel disease. While the two share many of the same symptoms, and a person can have both IBS and IBD at the same time, the two are very distinct conditions.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a functional disorder, which means that while it causes impairments in one’s bodily functions – and creates symptoms – there are no structural abnormalities within the body that can be seen through medical testing like blood tests, x-rays, and an endoscopy.
Irritable bowel disease, on the other hand, causes chronic inflammation in the gut resulting in damage to the gastrointestinal tract. IBD is a term used to describe a group of bowel diseases, the most common of which are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
8 Natural Irritable Bowel Syndrome Remedies
Before attempting any of the natural irritable bowel syndrome remedies below, remember that only a medical professional can diagnose irritable bowel syndrome. It’s important that you discuss your symptoms with your doctor to rule out other medical conditions for which you may require medical treatment. Medication is available for more severe symptoms of IBS, and while you may prefer natural treatment options, be sure to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor first.
Here are 8 natural irritable bowel syndrome remedies that are known to reduce the symptoms of IBS while also preventing future IBS flares from occurring.
1) ELIMINATION DIET
An elimination diet involves removing potential triggers from your diet for a period of time, and then reintroducing one at a time to evaluate how your body reacts, allowing you to pinpoint which foods trigger your IBS symptoms.
Common triggers for IBS sufferers include:
- Refined carbohydrates and processed foods, like white bread, pastries, cakes, cookies, potato chips, and processed meats
- Fried and fatty foods, like french fries and pizza
- Dairy products
- Carbonated drinks
Of course, everyone’s triggers may be different – the foods that cause IBS symptoms in one person may have no effect on another. One of the best ways to determine which foods to avoid is to cut out the above-mentioned foods and any other items that cause you discomfort for an extended period of time. Ideally, you would want to be symptom-free for a period of a few weeks before you begin to re-introduce each food back into your diet so you can properly gauge how your body reacts. Be sure to keep a log of how you feel after consuming each food, and be careful to only introduce one new food a week so you can pay attention to the effect it has on your symptoms.
2) DIETARY CHANGES
In addition to figuring out and avoiding trigger foods, there are certain diets designed to help those who suffer from irritable bowel disease. I recommend consulting with a licensed physician and/or naturopath before making dietary changes to ensure they are safe, and to discuss important supplements you should be consuming. Also, while some people swear by one particular diet to help keep their IBS symptoms at bay, others prefer to combine the principals from multiple dietary approaches.
If you are interested in learning more about how dietary changes can help manage and prevent the symptoms of IBS, here are 3 books I highly recommend:
- The Specific Carbohydrate Diet. If there is ONE book I recommend to anyone who suffers from bowel problems like IBS and IBD, this is the one. We were first introduced to The SCD Diet after my husband’s ulcerative colitis diagnosis, and while we weren’t big believers in natural remedies at that point in our lives (oh, how age and experience changes people!), my husband was so adamant he didn’t want to go on medication for his IBD that he was willing to try anything.
The SCD Diet was developed by Elaine Gottschall – whose own daughter was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis at the age of 4 – and has helped people all over the world manage the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS, celiac, diverticulitis, autism, cystic fibrosis, and other ailments rooted in the digestive tract. I urge you to read the book in its entirety as she does such a great job of describing the role diet plays in the treatment of such disorders, and if you decide to give her approach a try, there are heaps of great SCD-friendly cookbooks you can purchase. Cooking for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet by Erica Kerwien and Recipes for the Specific Carbohydrate Diet by Raman Prasad are two of our favorites!
- Against All Grain. Written by Danielle Walker, this is another fabulous resource to those who suffer from IBS and IBD. Danielle was diagnosed with severe ulcerative colitis at the age of 22, and after seeing positive results from principals of the The SCD Diet and Paleo Diet, she started a blog. Danielle’s approach to food is more Paleo-focused, and she has published four best-selling cookbooks:
- Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple
- Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well & Feel Great
- Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion
- Eat What You Love: Everyday Comfort Food You Crave; Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes
We own all four books and I love them!
- The Low-FODMAP Diet for Beginners. Many experts recommend a diet low in fermentable carbs known as FODMAPS to help treat and prevent IBS symptoms, and this book by Mollie Tunitsky is a great introduction to this dietary approach to treating IBS. She explains the principals behind the diet, and provides a 7-day meal plan along with shopping lists, delicious recipes, and a symptom tracker so you can monitor your IBS symptoms.
3) INCREASED FIBER INTAKE
Eating a fiber-rich diet can have lots of positive benefits on our health. It helps us stay full for longer, aids in weight loss, lowers blood pressure, and reduces our risk for heart disease and diabetes. Fiber can also help relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome so long as you eat the right type of fiber for your specific IBS symptoms.
Soluble fiber helps support regular bowel movements by drawing water into your gut, which helps soften stool so it can pass through your gastrointestinal tract more easily. Foods like black beans, flaxseeds, avocados, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and carrots are all great sources of soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber does not absorb water, and remains intact as it passes through your digestive system. Foods like leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, flax and chia seeds, rolled oats, bran, breakfast cereals, and whole grains are all excellent sources of insoluble fiber.
Knowing which kind of fiber to eat for your IBS can be tricky. Many experts recommend increasing your soluble fiber if you have diarrhea to help absorb excess water and slow digestion down, and increasing your insoluble fiber if you suffer from constipation to add bulk and help move food through your digestive tract more quickly. Just be mindful that too much of either kind of fiber can be a bad thing when it comes to managing your IBS, so start slowly and experiment to figure out which one works best for you and your symptoms. And be sure to drink plenty of water!
4) STRESS MANAGEMENT
While stress isn’t thought to cause irritable bowel syndrome, many people report an increase in their IBS symptoms when they are feeling stressed and anxious. If this sounds like you, finding appropriate stress management strategies can be paramount in helping to keep your IBS at bay. Practicing daily meditation, keeping a gratitude journal, and committing to 30 minutes of physical activity everyday can all help lower feelings of stress and anxiety. If these don’t help, consider asking your doctor for a referral to a licensed therapist to discuss other options.
Research has shown that those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome tend to have more trouble falling – and staying – asleep, and typically report higher levels of fatigue compared to those without IBS. Poor sleep has also been said to cause an increase in IBS symptoms, so it can feel like a vicious cycle!
If you struggle with insomnia, we’ve written an entire post filled with helpful tips for a more restful sleep, which you can read HERE.
You may have noticed the terms ‘gut health’ and ‘probiotic’ popping up more often these days. Why? Because 70% to 80% of our immune system is located in our gut, and improving our gut flora by consuming probiotics has been shown to improve our immune health.
WebMD defines probiotics as…
‘…live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of these as germs that cause diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy.’ (SOURCE)
While it may be weird to think about eating living foods or supplements, probiotics are really important to have in our bodies. From supporting our immune health and helping to decrease inflammation, to improving our digestion and increasing our energy levels, the benefits of probiotics cannot be ignored. This is especially true for those who struggle with IBS, as probiotics have been shown to reduce symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, and irregularities with bowel movements.
7) PEPPERMINT OIL
If you’re looking for natural irritable bowel syndrome remedies, peppermint oil has been shown to have positive benefits in relieving symptoms due to its antispasmodic properties. I am always hesitant to discuss essential oils since I do not have enough personal experience with them, but if you suffer from abdominal pain and discomfort due to IBS, I highly recommend that you speak to a licensed naturopath for more information on how you can use peppermint oil to manage your symptoms.
8) HERBAL TEA
While I’m not one to push essential oils, herbal teas are definitely on the top of my list when it comes to recommending natural irritable bowel syndrome remedies. Herbal tea has always been one of my go-to solutions when I’m feeling stressed or anxious, and certain blends are known to relax muscles and soothe cramping and abdominal pain. Here are some of my favorite herbal teas to consider:
Peppermint tea. As mentioned above, peppermint has antispasmodic properties, which can be highly beneficial to those who suffer from IBS. If you’re not comfortable with essential oils, peppermint tea is a great alternative.
Anise tea. Similar to peppermint, anise tea is known for its antispasmodic properties, and also helps reduce stomach aches, gas, and bloating.
Chamomile tea. The anti-inflammatory properties of chamomile can help relax and reduce muscle spasms. Chamomile tea is also known to soothe stomachs and reduce intestinal gas, making it a great option for IBS sufferers.
While there is no known cure for IBS, I hope this collection of natural irritable bowel syndrome remedies helps to make your symptoms more manageable while also reducing the frequency and intensity of your IBS flares. Remember to keep an open mind, to exercise patience, and to give yourself grace. IBS is a chronic condition, and I hope your experience will be more manageable from this day forward.
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