Irritable Bowel Syndrome – What is it?

Many patients come and see us about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is tummy pain, there’s no single symptom pattern so it’s difficult to give a good description of IBS. Patients can present in one of three ways: abdominal pain and constipation; abdominal pain and diarrhoea or abdominal pain with alternating constipation and diarrhoea. Patients often come to us with a diagnosis of exclusion. That is, “the doctor had said there is nothing bad wrong with me, but it might be IBS, a colonoscopy and every other test was negative”, so IBS is a possibility. Even though there’s no medical drugs for ibs, a doctor’s visit is a great thing to start with for any stomach pain issue, it gives a herbalist great assurance that a serious disorder is not present. So why the pain? Irritable bowel syndrome may be the result of infections with bacteria, amoeba and worms, but in my experience it’s generally the result of unresolved food allergy or just plain eating the wrong foods, that feed your bad bacteria and not your good ones. IBS starts off with mild symptoms which generally worsen with time, leading on to multiple health issues like hormone disturbance, and arthritis. Herbs make a huge difference.

How does a herbalist treat IBS?

Well, we can treat IBS in several ways, but I believe a herbal mixture is the best core treatment. In this we supply a combination of historic herbs for the gut. The ones we use vary with the symptoms. The herbs we select from have the following objectives:

  • Reduce spasm and pain with antispasmodics, soothers, analgesics and anti-inflammatories: Cramp bark, wild yam, meadowsweet, raspberry, frankinsense.
  • Support the nervous system, valerian, corydalis, ginger, zizyphus, kava, bitters.
  • Alleviate constipation or diarrhoea, balance bowel flora. Agrimony, oakbark, cascara,
  • For alternating diarrhoea and constipation, liver/gall bladder herbs such as fringe tree, silybum and chamomile are best in my view.
  • Reduce wind. Fennel, peppermint, marshmallow
  • Herbs for worms if needed. Wormwood, stemona, clove oil, black walnut.

These herbs, will calm the symptoms sufficiently to move on to diet adjustment. We start generally by removing wheat from the diet for 2 weeks, then move to a FODMAP diet, probiotic supplements and generally add rolled flaxseeds, which feeds good bugs, and reduces both diarrhoea and constipation!

Wonderful supplements like slippery elm, glutamine, aloe vera, magnesium, B vitamins, fish oil, can also help you get a good result quickly. I’ll talk about some of them in my weekly videos this July.


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